Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In the Long Term, We're All Over Paying

A Tweet (oh dear God, I've become one of Them) from Lemur NBA Head Ric Bucher inspired this. Bucher's point was that you should not sign away a "energy player" -- which is to say, a guy whose stock in trade is defense and/or all-around play -- to a big contract, because (a) he'll lose the fire that made him useful in the first place, and (b) he's going to be exposed as limited with increased playing time and prominence.

Well, at least that's what I think he thinks. Twitter's 140 character limit is making me extrapolate a bit.

There's something to this, of course; a talented player can always hump up with a better attitude, at least for a short period of time. (See the playoff career of Tim Thomas and Jerome James, among many other sprint artists.) The hustle guy can't, at least not theoretically. There is, however, one qualifying point.

Long-term contracts are *rarely* in the best interests of the club... in any sport. They exist as a by-product of collective bargaining, and are acquired by players who are good enough to be hired away. In terms of actually motivating anyone but the guy who signs the deal, they are, at best, a non-factor. At worst, they are a sign to an emerging talent that you're going to have to skip town to get paid.

Fans, of course, rarely see it this way. You might question the amount, especially if the player has an injury or character issue, but the length? Fans want to win now, for the most part, rather than endure the malaise that is a fire sale year. They'll endure rebuilding if the young players are fun to watch, but more than that... well, we have many more things to do with our time now, right? And if the team isn't trying to win, why should you try to go to games, etc.?

Fans see long-term deals like little kids see a trip to the ice cream store -- almost all goodness, even if Dad is doing it to soften the blow of Not Enough Money For Vacation. They'll turn on it later, but mostly on the player. I haven't seen many torches and pitchforks out for Billy Beane buying up the terrible rest of Eric Chavez's career to a ruinous contract, even though almost every other position player from the early aught A's teams -- Tejada, Giambi, Damon, Dye, even freaking Ramon Hernandez -- would have brought a better return on investment. Instead, we shake our heads sadly at what might have been, seeing as how Chavez never did anything wrong other than get hurt. I need a drink.

So, getting back to the NBA... it's not just the Brian Cardinal / Ben Wallace / Theo Ratliff deals that wind up murdering your team. It's also the Stephon Marburys, the Latrell Sprewells, the Tracy McGradys. And, as we can see this week, the Yao Mings. (Good thing the Rockets find cheap second-tier talent.) Because even when the team rolls the dice with a long term deal and beats the odds.... What happens?

Right. The athlete wants to renegotiate, because he's getting less than what the market will bear. If you give it to him, the rest of the team does the same thing. If you don't, you get a malcontent that you probably wind up dealing for 60 cents on the dollar.

This isn't a sentence that gets written in English very often, but maybe Charlie Finley was right. The miserly and obnoxious A's owner at the dawn of free agency said he'd be all for it... provided everyone agreed to single-year contracts only. The man might have had a point.

205 Drop: Top 10 compliments an athlete never wants to hear

Today's drop is an exercise in the earlier, funny work, and this posting symbolizes this posting. If you get either of those references, you're probably even older than me, and really shouldn't be reading sports blogs. Waka waka!

But seriously, folks... the first joke in this yuck-a-thon comes from the longstanding Blogfrican obsession with Derek Jeter's love life. The Yankee captain has had an amazing run of prime grade Manhattan tail in his decade-plus run in the Bronx, and the persistent rumor that he also has a persistent STD (specifically, herpes) has been, well, persistent. Which leads to a larger point:

Is this in any way sports, and should anyone who is not turning two with Jeet care?

The answers appear to be no and no... unless you (a) believe athletes are role models, or (b) think that Jeet's performance between the lines has been compromised by his work between the sheets. Either belief seems wrong in this day and age; if Jeet can somehow manage to keep his name off a list of Steroid Achievers, he's going to practically qualify for sainthood, especially given how many of his teammates have gone for Pharmaceutical Rejuvenation over the years. He hasn't even made the mistake of being married while sleeping around, which is one of those Old Testament sins that doesn't seem to get much in the way of condemnation anymore. In just about every way, the man has been untouchable; even his season-ending outs and range-free defense have gotten a pass, and I'm sure if this post gets in the wrong eyes, I'll have any number of Yankee Fans telling me how much I suck. (Rest assured, Yankee Fan, it is much, and I'm just an A's Fan who will go to his grave cursing Jeremy Freaking Giambi.)

You can also, at this point, wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by knowing anything about athletes off the field. Jenny Diski said this better than I could in the June 29 London Review of Books, in covering a book about the late singer Nina Simone:

Increasingly, I wonder if we wouldn't do better without biography. Of course we want to know roll other people's stories and roll around in distant tragedy, but the pairing of talent and life too often suffers from banal, received assumptions based on ghastly popular psychology. The thing about Simone isn't her mental illness, whatever that might have been, or her bad temper; the thing about Simone to anyone who did not know her personally, is her recordings, or having witnessed one of the really good concerts she gave. Reading this biography and knowing much more about her life hasn't improved her music one bit.
And now that we've completely ran afoul of what people read sports blogs for... just go read the funny, OK?

Monday, June 29, 2009


So I was reading a piece from a Palestinian author about what it's like to have grown up in Tel Aviv, and how everything that was there before the formation of the Israeli state was more or less systematically wiped off the face of the earth. Everything, that is, but the indigent people. And I don't want to totally derail the blog with the backstory and inspiration here, because Lord knows that the only difference between the American Indian and the Palestine situation is population density and overwhelming numbers, rather than "morality" (and since the only indigent population on the earth that wasn't decimated by the introduction of Foreign Guy might be the Maori in New Zealand, and oh my, what a digression, I'm amazed you even finished this sentence).

There's also this: the Iraqi people, despite the recommendations of their own government, are taking to the streets to celebrate the removal of American forces from their cities, as part of the drawdown and redeployment to Afghanistan. This has resulted in the deaths of hundreds (I know, I'm as surprised as you are that there are hundreds of Iraqis left, given the way that country has gone in the past decade), because large collections of people in Iraq almost always results in a bombing or three, but the people want to celebrate the removal of an occupier that much. Not exactly the flowers and chocolates that we were sold.

Anyway, let's get this back to sports before I'm accused of anti-semitism, americanism, and kiwiism. Especially when the point was just to deal with the sports equivalent of Occupied Lands, which is to say, the growth of Road Fan.

I've been Road Fan from time to time, but never in a fashion that anyone might really notice. Part of this is that I'm a small guy -- shorter than Muggsy Bogues, though probably, sigh, not lighter. Being a big obvious Road Fan might give me a direct path to a dumpster, and, well, I've got better ways to end my evening.

But more importantly is the fact that Road Fan should, IMO, show some freaking respect. The Real Golden Rule -- do unto others as you would have them do unto you, not He Who Owns The Gold, Rules -- should be the guiding point here... but it's increasingly not, especially as Road Fan gets to the point of starting to outnumber the non plus teams. The last time that the Yankees or Red Sox felt very uncomfortable in a road game in Baltimore? Probably not in this century. The last time that either of those teams didn't own a solid 50% of the loyalties of the population on that road game to Oakland? Probably 2005, really.

It's not a healthy situation. When I was a partial season ticket holder in Oakland, I made sure to never take my kid to one of those games, because the Occupying Force? It's not a good vibe, really... and it's also a vicious cycle down, down, down. Now that your kid can more or less root for the road team in complete comfort, why should the home team ever win the hearts and minds of the young? (And it's not as if sports is doing a bang-up job of attracting young audiences these days, what with the rampant expense of it all.)

I'm not saying you should have to root for the home team, especially if you are from somewhere else, or even that you have to raise your kid in the colors of the local team. But I am saying that if you're going to be in the opposing team's yard, you should fly under the radar, even if the local team doesn't have particularly ferocious fans, or even if you are in the soft cocoon of your own shirts. The world doesn't need any more occupied land, even in something as harmless as sports.

I Think We Just Parted Amicably

Perhaps the best thing ever on the Internets. Go with all speed.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Mets Are So Bad, Even Mariano Rivera Drives In Runs Against Them

Tonight in New York, in front of a split crowd of their fans and Yankee Fans, the Mets did something no team has ever done before. They gave up an RBI to Mariano Rivera.

In the ninth inning, K-Rod came in to keep it close in a 3-2 game. The inning led off with a miscommunication pop up to let Jorge Posada be the leadoff runner. The second hitter, Melky Cabrera, grounded out and took first, then stole second. Brett Gardner worked a walk, but Johnny Damon lined out to right for the second out of the inning. With the Yankees playing games of pretending to pinch-hit for Rivera, the Mets actually pitched to Derek Jeter for a strike, then eventually gave up the intentional walk to load the bases. The bluff called, Joe Girardi sent Rivera out for his second career at-bat.... and got the glimmer of hope when K-Rod started him off with two straight balls. The Mets closer than poured in two straight strikes before Rivera took a big hack and fouled off a 2-2 pitch, then wound up overthrowing two more pitches to actually walk in a run. It was yet another laugh out loud moment in a Mets season that's been filled with them. The inning ended on a borderline checked swing call to Mark Teixeira, and K-Rod's evening ended with a 39-pitch inning that more or less ruins him for work tomorrow, when the Mets play the Brewers.

It's rare that you see a Confetti Bucket Moment in MLB, but really, watching Rivera intimidate K-Rod into overthrowing ball 3 and ball 4 after fouling off a pitch was just beyond the fail. The Mets could easily turn this season around if and when they get back Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado, but when you see their previously untouched closer (K-Rod's ERA is now just 1.23 despite the ugliness) walk in a run against the other team's closer... well, um, let's just say I don't see a post-season in their future.

In the bottom of the ninth, Rivera does what he does when he's not opposing Boston, earning Career Save #500, and the Yankees swept a terrible Mets team at home, in what seemed like yet another home game for the most MLB+ team pf them all. But honestly, if you wanted a signature loss for the Mutts, this was it. Start with relatively no offense against a guy (Chien Ming Wang, whose ERA is still over 10) who had redefined flammable before tonight. Add in an early deficit, as Livan Hernandez gave up three runs in the first inning. Toss in 11 (!) walks from their own pitchers, adding to their own defensive woes (David Murphy botched a play in the rally), and you just have a team that has to be ungodly to watch on a day-in, day-out basis. Oh, and their brand new park also kills home run hitting almost as much as the new Yankee Stadium helps it, which means it's going to be one more spike in the head for a team that doesn't attract as many free agents as you think they might. Good night, Mutts.

205 Drop: Top 11 reasons why Jimmy Rollins has sucked this year

Today's drop is part of my continuing effort to double-bluff Jimmy Rollins into being, well, not the utter and perfect reason why my rotis team is 10th out of 12 clubs. I could, of course, put the blame on people like David Price, Matt Wieters, Ryan Ludwick, Joey Votto, Ricky Nolasco and a dozen other guys I used to really like... but, really, Rollins is the be-all and end-all. Since I had a stud shortstop (and second baseman, where Ian Kinsler has also disappointed after a white-hot start), I didn't set myself up with other good middle infield options, so I've had to just sit and endure it. Since I had locked down a huge runs and steals guy, I went more for RBI men in the rest of the lineup, and have subsequently underperformed in those categories. And since I'm local enough to Philadelphia to catch the occasional Phillies game on the television, I've watched any number of weak opposite field pop ups from J-Roll this year, punctuated by the occasional false dawn home run.

Well, no more. Jimmy, I'm through being your victim. Meet me at Camera Three.

This last weekend, I pulled the chute on this train wreck and picked up something named Everth Cabrera, a 22-year-old guy from, according to Yahoo, Nandaime. The Internets tell me this is a municipality in the Granada department of Nicaragua. Baseball Prospectus, who profiles literally thousands of players, doesn't list him. In 2008, Cabrera played in freaking single-A ball. He's 5'-8", 160 pounds, and owned in a whopping 1% of all leagues in Yahoo.

And this week, he's starting on my team, instead of you.

You hear that, first round pick? You hear that, guy with the largest auction value on my team? Your ass is benched for some *PADRE*. Some guy that plays half of his games in a freaking mausoleum for hitters, whereas you play in a bandbox. Some guy that sets the table for a team with 1.5 professional hitters (Adrian Gonzalez and the occasional burst of usefuleness that is Kevin Kouzmanoff), whereas you play for a team with multiple recent MVPs. Or, more accurately, not play, since even Charlie Manuel has decided he's seen enough of you this year, at least for now.

Oh, and no, I'm not going to release you. I'm going to own you into the fires of hell, J-Roll. I'm going to draft you again next year for the bounce-back that will never come, and keep you on my bench until you're platooning with freaking Eric Bruntlett.

Because this, my dear Jimmy, has become personal. You've cost me too much for it to be anything else. So we're stuck with each other, and no, I'm not dealing you, because I just don't make deals, because that would be cheating, really. We're just going to have to learn to live with each other; me, with my broken dreams and simmering hate, and you, with your sub-Eckstein OPS.

Best wishes,

Your Pal Shooter

Thursday, June 25, 2009

NBA Round Up: Shaq, Vince Carter, and a billion Wolfie Points

Many quick thoughts on what went down in the Association the past few days...

> The Magic got Vince Carter for a combo platter with one real player (Courtney Lee), one problematic piece (Rafer Alston) and one waste of space (Tony Battie). The more curious thing really is what this represents, which is that a team that got all the way to the Finals with a 4-1 offense (i.e., Dwight Howard down low, four three-point shooters out high) would blow that up, rather than try it again with a presumably healthy Jameer Nelson.

Having seen a fair amount of Nets basketball in the past few years, I can say that I think Vinsanity still has hops and game... but he's also still the soft and selfish guy that quit on the Raptors and stopped playing defense once the Nets stopped being a threat. Putting him on a roster with presumably young and impressionable players like Nelson and Howard just spells disaster, unless you think that Magic Management is just doing everything they can to make sure that when they come for Stan Van Gundy's job, he'll resign in relief.

> Shaq to Cleveland... um, I suppose and all, in that he's a better defensive matchup than than clowns they had trying to stop Dwight Howard last month, but the time to do this deal was last February, not now. Sure, LeBron James will enjoy playing with him, and Shaq's good hands and ability to finish down low will make him a better fit than Zydrunas Ilgauskas setting up for mid-range jump shots... but the reason why the Magic beat the Cavs was because Claveland couldn't defend the pick and roll worth a damn. Shaq defends the pick and roll about as well as he shoots free throws. It's a good move for them, since they gave up the living definition of nothing in what amounted to a salary dump by the Suns, but I'm still not sure it makes them the next champion.

> My Sixers got Jrue Holliday from UCLA with their relatively late round first pick. Smarter people than me really like the pick, and he's super-young with good size... but on some level, I'd like to have seen bigger numbers from him during his year in the Pac-10. He looks to me like the new Eric Snow, and that's a pretty good thing, really... but still not exactly something that you win championships with. (And honestly, with this team's history of not being able to hit from distance, and the way the Association has changed to over-value that shot, I want back-up power forwards to be able to hit from downtown now.)

> I'm not the most knowledgable guy when it comes to Euro and college players, but from the little I can tell, this was a draft to load up on baack-up point guards and athletes that need to develop before they can really help anyone. When you see that some pick didn't even have double-digit points per game, I'm not seeing how they're going to score enough to get minutes in the Association.

> Hasheem Thabeet to the Grizzlies with the second pick... just like Shawn Bradley went with the second pick all those years ago. NBA Fan has gotten smart enough to know that the freaky tall guy is not something you really need to be afraid of.

> The Minnesota Timberwolves took back to back point guards (Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynnn) high in tonight's draft, and honestly, I can't see what they were thinking, unless there's some massive trade coming later. Both guys will be good players -- Flynn's undersized but gutty, and the league doesn't have so many point guards that can post up anyone anymore, and Rubio makes people just go into Hype Overdrive with his court vision and Olympic performance -- but if you really think you can win by playing them at once... well, um, no.

Why not? Because half of the game is defense, and your front court is (presumably) Ryan Gomes, Al Jefferson and Kevin Love... which means that if you play Flynn and Rubio with that, you've got five guys on the court who can't defend without help. I admire it as an experiment, but as winning basketball? Not so much. (On the other hand, after having to watch Sebastian Telfair play point for them last year, maybe you draft four point guards just to restore your sense of sight.)

> I always like it when some no-name Euro is in the room when he's drafted in the second round... but since most of these guys are just going to get stashed overseas for a few years, um, why are they here again? Just hire some tall actor to walk to the podium for you, people. Let's save the plane fare. There's a recession on.

> Finally, the Draft is always entertaining... but note how the defending champion Lakers more or less took a miss on this entire experience. If your draft was really amazing, there's little chance that your team was, or will be anytime soon...

205 Drop: Top 11 things I want for my own death

Today's drop is pretty wordy, so you should go get the full explanation over at 205, rather than read it twice. Instead, a few words about Farrah Fawcett.

When you look at The Poster now, it's hard to imagine the impact that it would have. I think my brother got his at a traveling carnival, which is really where you got any amount of sketchy merch back in those days, before the mall had niche stores and the Internets were a dystopian fever dream. He put it up in the room that we shared, and I remember staring up at it as an 8-year-old, barely knowing what the point was. He seemed to regard it as a religious artifact, and since the man was 15 or so at the time, I'm sure it was.

There have been female images since the Fawcett Poster that have achieved widespread public awareness, of course... but with the availability of imagery on the Internets and the fragmentation of pop culture, she's pretty much the last. There's something to be said for that, really. And there's also something to be said for a woman that didn't just accept that lot in life, but kept striving to do more as an actress and an activist.

Finally, this: the woman died in a way that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Even with the presumed advantage of money and celebrity, there was no escaping that.

We'll bring the blog back to sports shortly, in that I've got some NBA Draft thoughts. Thanks for letting me go on this, and.. there will be no equivalent eulogy for Michael Jackson. Moving on.

Blogrolling Likes To Get Its Drank On

Quick Hit has your NBA Draft drinking game. Hey, the Grizzlies can't be sober while they are working this thing, so why should you be any different?

Dock Squad interviews Brandon Ewing, assuming you like it when blogs actually do journamalism. Me, I find that kind of thing unseemly. But you'll feel all kinds of smart for knowing who the hell he is at your Draft party. Milk it for all it's worth. I think he could be the best Wyoming player since Fennis Dembo!

Major League Jerk got sentimental. We should mock them for that.

Buster Douglas is alive, and weighs in on the shocking Will.i.am / Perez Hilton kerfluffle. Publicizing this story makes Mike Tyson feel like he didn't screw up his life so bad.

Is there a tougher dude in baseball than Dave Stewart? First he tears Clemens a new one on the field and off, and now he's going after his sideshow freak teammate, Jose Canseco. No one remind him of the time he got busted soliciting a tranny hooker, or there will be trouble. (I can talk to Stew like this, because thanks to an old promotion at a pretend gambling Web site, I have his balls. Signed, as a matter of fact.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Top 10 Unseeemly NBA Draft Moments

Hey, I saved a list for FTT, seeing how as it'll wind up making the NBA Haters in the crowd, well, hate. Added benefit: it will also make NBA fans probably hate on me, too. Let's have at it, shall we?

* * * * *

Not to be a complete killjoy, but you know how so many folks seem to take an uncomfortable joy in Draft Night? Yeah, I think you do. Let's go down the list and, well, try to make this thing a little less minstrelly.

10) Mocking Mom. That big woman over there who's acting like she won the lottery, because her progeny just achieved his ridiculous odds against dream? Let's mock her, especially if her clothing sense is non-traditional, or if she has a weight issue, like 60 percent of the American populace. I bet she's just here for the money. Ha Ha!

9) Haute couture. Did you see the suit on that first round pick? It's like he wants extra attention from the public, or doesn't share the same cultural sensibilities as the majority of the viewers. He must be crazy or stupid!

8) Foreigner bashing. The first person to make a joke about how some guy with a difficult name likes to flop is, by rule, The Funniest Person in the Room. Don't miss out on your chance to be very, very funny!

7) Gay porn overtones. He's long, has good verticality, and a hard body. He's also good in penetration, with range and a handle. We will now giggle like very knowing schoolgirls, because no one has ever thought of porn when listening to NBA scouts discuss the attributes (attributes! I kill me!) of prospects.

6) Hubris. Why on Earth did that team take that guy when I, the reader of at least one draft preview and/or mock draft, and the watcher of a handful of college games at best, clearly know better? This is as bad as those know-nothing referees.

5) Second round second class.
Great White Father Stern can only read so many names, you know. More than that, he can not bear, for the second half of the people names are simply not worthy of his hand in forced photography. All Father Stern decrees it!

4) Green room mockery. See that player over there, whose stock has fallen to the point where he's lost millions of dollars, in a way that would be utterly tragic if it were happening to you or a friend of yours? His misery is funny, really. More funny oh no than funny ha ha, but funny nonetheless.

3) Geographic slams. It's never tiresome to hear about how many NBA players prefer some locations to others, especially if you are one of those unfortunate souls who happen to live in, or root for, the less favored laundry. It's just adorable that the teams in Toronto, Milwaukee and Utah try at all, isn't it?

2) Actual hope. The NBA is kind of amazing for a couple of points. First, that there is a true salary cap that allows small market teams to match contracts; when a team like Indianapolis or Sacramento falls to pieces, it's due to bad management, rather than an inevitable talent drain to the big market teams. But it's also a league where teams that are in the lottery this year are very likely to be in the lottery again next year, because unless they really do catch lightning in a bottle, a good draft or three won't do it. (See Blazers, Trail.) So all of that hope that teams like the Kings, Wolves and Clippers (ha, the Clippers) bring to the table? It's just adorable, really...

1) Deference. 364 days a year, people like Jay Bilas, Chad Forde, Dick Vitale and the late great Stephen A. Smith (what? you mean he's still alive? I demand sock puppetry!) are pelted with rocks and garbage as sideshow freaks. But on Draft Night, the geeks inherit the earth, and we have to somehow give their opinions credence despite all those years of Fail, simply because they're much more likely to effectively lie about seeing Ricky Rubio play. (He's got even more game than Darko!) But don't worry, by the weekend, we'll be back to normal, and they'll be back to getting wedgies in the World Wide Lemur cafeteria. See you again next year, nerds.

205 Drop: Top 11 ramifcations of the US soccer team's upset win over Spain

Hey, when you get a topical gift, you crank a list. Or, at least, you do if you are me. Go click for the funny, and enjoy the annual moment where people in the US actually care about soccer. A little.

205 Drop: Top 11 fan mistakes

Today's list was inspired by a recent piece by Joe Posnanski for Father's Day, in which he talked about how his daughters don't share his interest in sports, and how he's (mostly) OK with that, because, well, there's more to life and to him. Like everything Joe writes, it was thoughtful, long, resonant and well-crafted, and made me want to (a) read more of his stuff, and (b) stop writing, seeing how he's got an audience for quality work and I've got the roaring void, foreign porn enthusiasts and nitpicking grief trolls. I'm sure that Posnanski has all of that, too, but it is amazing what a few dozen intelligent comments can do for the will to fill the bloghole.

Anyhoo... today's list is basically distilled down to the old baseball adage of staying within your game. We watch sports because it's fun, or at least, should be, and an escape from the Real World of pandemics, recessions and doom... and yet, that Real World of salary manipulation, labor stoppages and crime is always ready to intrude.

I don't see how that stops, or how to even make things not get worse. Last night, the Bucks sent away a reasonable small forward asset (Richard Jefferson) to San Antonio for two pieces that shouldn't be part of anyone's rotation (the washed-up Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas), mostly to be free of salary. Minnesota moved Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wiz for Etan Thomas and Darius Songalia and a pick, and I can only assume that was a salary dump as well, seeing how Miller is a poor man's Hedo Turkoglu, and Foye still has a chance to be more than fodder. (Oh, and there's also the fact that the T-Wolves now control three high picks in what most people were calling a terrible draft two months ago, before the Hype Machine kicked in). There will be another half-dozen deals like this in the next two weeks, and then the same thing will happen in baseball in July. If you can tell a difference between real-world sports GMing and slash-and-burn fantasy sports GMing at this point, you've got sharper eyes than mine; the simple integrity of trying to win games for the benefit of winning games is a game that only suckers, and the general public who still goes to a regular season game, plays.

So it's a business, and it's always been a business, and knowing it's a business will not make you happier... but once you've tasted the fruit from the tree of knowledge, you can't toss it back up and go on about your day of root, root, rooting for the home team. Which is honestly the biggest mistake any of us make in our fandom... and gets me back to Posnanski with his daughters.

At the close of the piece, his eldest, who is the same age as mine, gets wrapped up in that terrible ABC show "Wipeout", and asks if, well, this is sports. Sure, honey, sure. As much as anything else, really.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

205 Drop: Top 14 reasons to support the new USFL

Today's drop is ridiculous, and yet not so. The Five Tool Ninja sent me a link for a Wikipedia page that talked about the return of the USFL in 2010, and I was off to the races with actual enthusiasm, despite the fact that the odds against any second, non-NFL league working, especially in this economy, is trivial at best. And yet, I am prepared to geek hard, long and often for this thing: I want season tickets, would happily run a particularly absurd fantasy league, and might even start a second blog devoted entirely to USFL coverage. Hell, I'd think hard about employment there, despite loving my current gig. (Make me an offer, USFL Overlords!) That's just how much I want my spring football, and if it's not the NFL, with all of the cancerous growths and nonsense that you have to put up with in the NFL, so much the better.

Want to see my bona fides?

One of my happier purchases in the past year was a throwback (prescient?) USFL hoodie for my Philadelphia Stars. I can still rattle off a half dozen or more of their players and personnel (Sam Mills, Chuck Fusina, Irv Eatman, Kelvin Bryant, Sean Landeta, Scott Fitzkee, Jim Mora, Carl Peterson) without a moment of research.

I've been to one pro football playoff game in person in my life. It was the Stars, coming from 21 points down at home with eight minutes to play against George Allen and Vince Evans and the Chicago Blitz, and winning in overtime. Still the best game I've ever seen. I've been to one championship parade in my life, and it was for the Stars, the year after the Blitz comeback. (I'm not much of a parade guy.) I took the day off from school and went downtown to cheer with the 15K other Stars fans, as most of the rest of the people from the area looked on, mostly with confusion.

You see, unlike the NFL, which reared me in nothing but pain, misery, Norman Braman and Dallas, Washington and New York championships in the '70s and '80s, the Stars actually freaking won. Regularly, in fact; they were something of the 49ers of the league, and also kicked Donald Trump's ass (and his New Jersey Generals, with Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker) as a habit. I also was blissfully unaware of sports talk radio, didn't have to endure pre-game and post-game inanities from braying jackass television, and didn't even have a fantasy league to mitigate my interest in my hometown team. Pound for pound, it's the most rewarding sports fan experience I've ever had, and second place is not close.

Best of all, the USFL was *mine*. It wasn't polluted by decades of failed teams, the attention of non-fanatics, or even the attention of the Shooter Brother, who, truth be told, made my first exposure to pro football somewhat harrowing from his anger. (He was also seven years, six inches and untold amounts of athletic prowess ahead of me, so watching games with him wasn't always a comfortable experience when the freaking team was winning, either.) The two great team loves in my formative years were the Stars and the Sixers; they both won championships. (The Phillies did too, but on some level, I've never gotten over Gary Maddux losing the ball in the sun against the Dodgers.)

Let's go further. Despite not being much of a jersey snob, I believe that the Michigan Panthers jersey and helmet (Bobby Hebert to Anthony Carter, deadly) is the coolest design for a football jersey that's been unleashed in the last 30 years. I still regret not seeing more of the Houston Gamblers with Mouse Davis and Jim Kelly, to see the dawn of the run and shoot. The rookie professional season of Reggie White with the Memphis Showboats, when he was probably the fastest man to ever play defensive end, is also necessary viewing. The Washington franchise stank on ice. The Boston franchise had to move for lack of support. The Oakland franchise logo looked like gay Nordic porn. The Denver Gold logo looked like a screwed-up asterisk; your "Boom Goes The Dynamite" catch phrase there wouldn't even be ironic. Steve Spurrier was in this league in Tampa and failed miserably. Had the Stars not moved to Baltimore for their third and final season from a stadium problem, my memories of this thing would have been almost entirely positive.

And so on, and so on. My nostalgia for this thing knows no limits. It was honest-to-God good pro football, without dumb XFL overtones, and without so many things that we endure, rather than enjoy, about the NFL. I'd like it back. Now. Please. (And yes, I know that it won't go as well this time around -- hell, Philly might not even have a team -- and I'm going to get wildly annoyed with NFL loyalists who shalt have no other league before it. Like that league doesn't desperately need to be taken down a peg or six.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

True busts

A Golden State blogger sparked something for me this morning with his post as to whether or not Billy Owens, a first round pick that ended the Run TMC era, was a true draft day bust. Owens wound up being a journeyman despite some occasionally useful offensive numbers, and was out of the Association by age 31.

Being a disappointment despite outsized talent wasn't a new trick for Owens, who was also a monstrously hyped product at my alma mater of Syracuse University. But we're talking about a guy that posted career numbers of 11.7 / 6.7 / 2.8, and was useful enough to get traded five times. That might not be what you think of when you go for the third pick in the draft and someone you give up Mitch Richmond for even up, but it's not exactly Frederic Weis.

The nature of a draft bust, and indeed, the nature of a terrible player, is skewed. If you are truly awful, you never make the top levels, and you most certainly do not last for ten years. The worst baseball player of my memory, growing up, was Steve Jeltz of the Phillies. He was the living embodiment of the mid-80s teams that did nothing and went nowhere; he hit .210 in an 8-year career with a .576 OPS, and lo, the fielding wasn't much better. But Jeltz was better than any number of other players, which is to say just about every other guy who was employed to play shortstop for the Phillies for a half dozen years. That makes him, by definition, a pretty great player, and if you had, say, faced him in high school or college, he was probably the best player on the field.

Truly bad players have to be good enough to hang around for a while. They also need to fail for a team that you remember, which generally means they need to play for a team with some prominence. Perhaps with a moment of epic fail in a playoff game or two.

Failing that, it also helps if they are personally irritating, or some kind of felon. That helps.

205 Drop: Top 10 lessons that sports helps you teach to childen

Today's drop is nice and dark, based on all of those things that you shouldn't teach your kids, but probably will. The older I get, and the more I become very sadly aware of the powerlessness that is parenting -- they keep, you know, being individuals and all that -- the temptation to just wash your hands of it and be distant and dismissive is hard to overcome. Every generation, I am sure, is convinced that they take parenting more seriously than the generation before it, and feels like they've got more on the ball, in terms of research, education, memory of their own childhood, etc., etc. But we really don't know anything, just as our parents didn't know anything, just as their parents didn't know anything. It's the role of parents to be clueless, or at least, to seem that way to their kids.

Anyway, now that I've set you up for Com Oh Dee, go click. And happy Father's Day.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Five MLB Tidbits

I spent most of the day doing laundry, and caught parts of four different games here in the Man Cave. That, plus staring down the barrel at my Stat Tracker at three different fantasy leagues, leads me to pull the following nuggets of wisdom out of my nethers.

1) If anyone has seen Jimmy Rollins' bat or head, would you please call the Phillies? After today's 0-for-4 festival of weakness, the leadoff hitter for the defending world champions is hitting .217 with a .608 OPS, far and away the worst numbers of his career. He's not even stealing bases worth a damn (10 for 15), at least not in comparison with his usual self. Given that the man is only 30 and was born in America (which is to say, his birth certificate does not have the usual Dominican issues), and I bid way too much for him at auction, I'd like to know what the hell the deal is. So would Philly Fan, who has watched his team drop six in a row on a 1-8 homestand that was one of the worst in franchise history, while still holding first place in the suddenly weak NL East. I'm really hoping that this is all pointless worry, and that Rollins will pick it up and get back to his usual numbers and self... but, um, that OPS ranks at 161 for all qualifying MLB hitters, which is to say, 8th-worst of all hitters. Not exactly what I was buying.

2) How many road games do the Yankees really play every year? You'd have been hard-pressed to find a Marlins fan beyond the folks who cheered when Hanley Ramirez destroyed a ball for the tying home run in what would eventually be a Fish "home" win over the Yanks. The game will be noted more for the second inning exit of CC Sabathia, who suffered some form of worrisome tightness, and the Yankees playing the game under protest after the Marlins screwed up a double switch. Not exactly a routine loss for the Bombers... and just as I was putting this post to bed, there's news that they are going to have to rest A-Roid a game a week until the All-Star Break, due to that troublesome hip. Jeez, do these people like drama.

3) Memo to Joe Torre: I've given up trying to understand why you feel compelled to bury Matt Kemp in your lineup. I get that the guy is streaky, maybe not the headiest player in the world, might be a little maddening to deal with from time to time. He dropped a ball in the ninth inning tonight that he could have caught. (Oh, and kudos to the official scorer for calling a ball off a glove as a double, costing me in my roto league, where I was tied in RBIs and opposing Hunter. Fantasy baseball is pure freaking misery.)

But let's consider the OPS of your starting line up here.

Pierre .806
Furcal .658
Hudson .849
Blake .881
Ethier .827
Martin .662
Loney .718
Kemp .863
Ausmus .757

Um, you are aware that your second best hitter is hitting eighth here, right? You know, the place where Furcal should be hitting? Or perhaps Martin?

If I were running an MLB team, I'd be desperately trying to separate the Dodgers from Kemp right about now. I mean, Juan Pierre's played so well, right? He needs to keep going once Manny Ramirez is back. Ignore the fact that Kemp is 24, 21st in the entire NL in OPS, and plays a fine centerfield. He's just your #8 hitter! He can't be any good!

4) After today's loss to the equally ferocious Padres, my Oakland A's are 30-38, 7 games out and in last place in the utterly mediocre AL West, with the second-lowest runs scored in the AL. Which leads everyone to assume that the Matt Holliday Sales Watch Is On... which would be a fine idea, but only if Holliday's sales price hadn't dropped like a stone in his 68 games in Oakland (a ho-hum .790 OPS). Oh, and Holliday makes $13.5 million a year, which the A's will, of course, want defrayed in the event of any move.

One problem with that idea is that there might be, oh, maybe five team in all of MLB who are able to even consider that kind of salary, let alone give up any kind of prospect for him. Which leads to the real possibility that they will have given up prospects and useful pieces to the Rockies for a guy they can't get any kind of return value for... and maybe even have to throw a prospect into the mix to be rid of. But remember, folks, Billy Beane's a genius! (And the fact that their All-Star representative will in all likelihood be Adam Freaking Kennedy... just means Billy's still got it. Um, sure.)

Ed. Note and Update -- How bad of a year is it? The "Moneyball" movie just got shut down. It's OK though, I hear that the film will be made by a different studio that can afford to make movies, once they can get Brad Pitt to stay healthy...

5) The Mets might be the most efficient baseball team, from a fan perspective... because you can more or less limit your viewing of their offense to the 3-4-5 hitters (Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Gary Sheffield). Oh, and if you are pressed for time, feel free to cut Master Shef off the list, too. I get that they are missing their leadoff hitter (Jose Reyes) and usual clean-up hitter (Carlos Delgado), but really... this is an MLB+ team? And they fell into Shef thanks to the Tigers cutting him loose in spring training. For a team with a new stadium, it's kind of astounding that they were going into battle with Ryan Church and David Murphy playing prominent roles, but what the hey... it's not like they have the memory of two straight collapse years haunting their efforts. (Oh, wait...)

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Rare Colombian Dry Humping Shark Mascot

Federal protection is required for its continued survival. (And if you habla Espanol, please translate in the comments.) No one show this to the Philly Phanatic, because having him rub one off against Mrs. Met would just be, you know, wrong. (And a total hatef***.) H/t, No Guts No Glory...

Blogfrica vs. Mainstream

The lead story on Deadspin and far too many other places this morning is the news out of Hollywood that veteran World Wide Lemur gasbag Chris Berman will get his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Now, the first point to make about this is that it's not exactly the honor you might think it is. There's over two dozen people that will be joining the leather enthusiast and nickname peddler this year alone, and you'd have to be some kind of showbiz whore to recognize all of the names. There's some Cirque du Soleil guy here, for pity's sake.

But the bigger point is that there's really no stronger point of differentiation between, for like of a better term, What The Casual Public Likes and What The Hardcore Fan Tolerates. To the latter group, Berman is everything that's wrong, wrong, wrong with the network: an outdated assclown (when every single cast member of Hogan's Heroes is dead, will you stop referring to it?) who makes himself the story, rather than, you know, getting the hell out of the way and letting the game be the thing. Perhaps I'm too hard on him for the annual Home Run Derby war crime, but if that doesn't make your teeth hurt with the sheer dumbness of it all, you're probably reading the wrong blog. (Or, really, having the wrong blog read to you.)

To the general public, of course, he's Boomer, the guy that's been there since they were children and beyond, the uncle you wish you had, the fun-loving soul who says all of the things they want to hear. Who wouldn't want to have a beer with this guy, especially since it will come in a place where the beer will be free and super-premium? He's going to deliver the Hall of Fame induction speech for Bills owner Ralph Wilson (conflict of interest much?), he's appeared on stage with once-popular rock bands, he shows up at celebrity golf tournaments and hosts the only NFL pre and post-game show they watch. Whatta guy!

(Though, frankly, why one would have brand loyalty to what Berman puts down, as opposed to what Fox or NBC does, seems kind of pointless to me now. They all seem to be the same product -- a forced laughter circle jerk with enough people to get up a full-court game of basketball, assuming anyone on the dais could run without falling over. But, again, I digress.)

Here's the thing: Berman's choices as a broadcaster are what you do after 30 years in the business, right? You've worked hard, you deserve more money, access, your own fame. Who wants to have journalistic integrity and separation from the people you cover? What the hell did that ever get the journalist? Bunch of penniless nobodies, those people. You don't see their names on the Walk of Fame, do you? Or on the dais in Canton.

Corruption is as corruption does, folks.

Eventually, just as the public came around on things like George Bush wasn't a very good president, opposing the invasion of Iraq, and that torturing people for information merely leads to bad information and more enemies, rather than a cool "24"-esque reveal and world-saving moment.. well, it's a matter of faith, really, that the general public will come around to see what the minority (and people who read sports blogs are, trust me, still a strong minority when compared to people who just watch sports) sees.

Basically, that Berman is a cancerous growth on the body politic of sports, and a phenomenon that will be duplicated to the detriment of actual coverage and analysis.

Because sports is the toy department, maybe it doesn't really matter if the coverage suffers. It's not life and death. But when this kind of nonsense happened in actual news journalism (i.e., when people like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and fine, add Keith Olbermann on that as well, see if I care), it leads to inaccuracies. Trivialization. Marginalization. Dumbness. The opportunity for new players, those who aren't bought and paid for, to catch the ear of a younger audience. (And no, I don't really harbor such delusions for myself. This is just a blog that I write so that my brain doesn't explode.)

Site hero and moral compass Bill Hicks said it best when he railed against corrupt musical mediocrities; it's analogous. (And NSFW.)

So, um, congratulations, Boomer Berman. Your transformation is complete. And maybe now you can finally get people to stop moving around.

205 Drop: Top 40 movies that would be improved by fisting

Today's list is a full-on chuckle fest that has absolutely nothing to do with sports, assuming that you don't consider fisting a sport, and dear me, you really shouldn't. It's also the kind of thing that I hesitate to even link to, because it's really Not Sports and I try to avoid that sort of thing... but, really, too much chucklefest to pass up. And really, who should pass up a good fisting joke or 40? So go take a look and see.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Nats Win In New York With Few Witnesses

So today in New York, for the second straight day in rain and gloom, the very worst team in baseball, which came into the series on pace to lose the most games since the expansion Mets, has taken back to back games against the freaking Yankees. Today's win was sparked by Craig Stanmen (who?), with his first MLB victory from 6.1 shutout innings, then followed up with 2.2 from the immortal Ron Villone, Julian Tavarez, Joe Beimel and Mike MacDougal -- in other words, four utter journeyman relievers, many of whom have been part and parcel of a historic amount of fail to get the Nats to, well, where they are. Before this series, MacDougal had not had a save since 2006; now, he has two.

It was also the first homer-free game in the history of the new Stadium, which only stands to reason, since it happened with a 5.5 hour rain delay. Which meant that only 10K people were in attendance -- one wonders whether the Nats are just starting to wonder if they'll ever get to play in front of a crowd -- and in a rare moment of usefulness, the Yanks allowed the fans to move down, finally filling the $2,625 seats.

Now, I'd love to make more of this and delight in Yankee misery, but, well, it just feels kinda silly. With the loss, the Yanks are 3.5 out in the East but still leading the wildcard; there's really nothing that could happen here, short of an injury, that anyone is going to remember later in the year. As bad as the Nats have been, even the worst team in baseball has to win 3 out of 10 games or so, and on talent, they really aren't a historically bad team.

Of course, I'm not really expecting such a long view to be in the tabloids tomorrow...

205 Drop: Top 10 MLB Bets I Wish I Could Make

Today's drop was written a brief period of time ago, just before Toronto closer (and, inevitably, a guy that I own in a roto league) Scott Downs hit the disabled list after attempting to run after batting. You know, something that pitchers do every 2-3 times a game in the National League, though admittedly, not so much on the reliever side. My opponents already own the guys who might get the save chances in Jayland, so this moves from Irritation to Frothing Irritation, both at Downs for being such a bubble baby and MLB for having different rules.

Seriously, is there anything more indicative of the failures of leadership at the top levels in MLB as the fact that the AL and NL play under different rules? I'm speaking, of course, of the Designated Hitter, which has been a point of contention for a mere 35 years now. It's also, I'd submit, damn near unique in sports. It would be like the AFC giving four points for field goals of over 50 yards, or the NBA's Western Conference making the rule five seconds in the lane, instead of three. (Note that I can't put college football in this category, since they already do something as dumb with the lack of a playoff and variable conference championship games.)

But since dumb things in MLB are celebrated rather than changed (witness things like Tal's Hill in Houston, home field in the World Series being decided by the All Star Game, and the continued employment of John Kruk), I say let's have more rules that make the game different between leagues. Why should the AL have all the fun, really? Let's make the NL go first with the rule that if you bring a pitcher into a game, he has to face a batter for at least one pitch before leaving. Just to hurt Tony LaRussa, really. Or if you don't like that one, how about the idea that a pitcher can only throw to a base to try to pick off a runner twice in an at-bat. Then, we can hear how the AL is too hidebound to innovate, or maybe we'd see stolen base numbers spike in one league, but not the other. You know, the way that home runs, ERA and more innings from the starting pitcher happens in the AL.

As I was finishing off this hype on the train this morning, my iPod triggered its telepathy mode for Commissioner Bud. Play me out, boys...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

May We All Find Opportunities In Life To Be So Abundant

So the axe has finally fell in Minnesota, where eternal GM and current coach Kevin McHale was relieved of his duties after a brief fifteen years. The next time you hear some sportswriter talk about how impatient and short-sighted modern sports owners are, please keep McHale in mind.

The man was at ground zero for the unspeakable Joe Smith meltdown, couldn't keep Stephon Marbury in his shoes as a young man when he could have done some good in his career, traded Kevin Garnett for the defense and health-free Al Jefferson and a sack of gah (Ryan Gomes can put up some numbers, but not when the team actually wins)... and, well, there's a million other points.

Sure, he was involved in the original Garnett signing, and the Wolves did manage to not quit on him last year when he came down from the front office to coach. Also, the Wolves did go to a conference final when Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell had the last good years of their careers, but... um... that's really a trivial return on investment for 15 years. And the fact that the man didn't get hauled off on the back of a refuse truck years ago, when he dealt the signature player of the franchise's history to his old team for 30 cents on the dollar...

Well, when do the Celtics sign him back to the lifetime services contract, seeing how he performed lifetime service in the Garnett deal? And did the Wolves finally run him off before he could ship back Jefferson and others back to Boston for Garnett, now that the Big Ticket might have a career-threatening injury?

Finally, on the off chance that you keep track of such things... McHale becomes yet another final and defined example of how, if you'd like your NBA franchise to actually be worth a damn, you absolutely have to keep it away from Ex Superstar. Larry Bird in Indy -- terrible franchise, DOA ever since the Artestocalypse. Isiah Thomas, perhaps the worst GM in NBA history. McHale, profiled here, laughingstock. When Joe Dumars -- you remember, the guy who passed on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh for Darko Milicic and traded Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson -- is your most successful member, it's time to flunk the class and just go find some stat or cap nerd to go run your club. You're still not going to win unless you can find some complete fool to give up a superstar for nothing (a la Gasol or Garnett), but at least you won't be a laughingstock.

Antisocial Media

Are you somehow not getting enough of me, Dear Theoretical Reader?

Well then, why not do as the kool kidz are doing and follow me on Twitter (dmtshooter) and Facebook (again, dmtshooter). You'll discover a whole new world of recycled jokes, old man bitterness and editor-free sloppiness.

Best of all, this wildly unpopular blog will receive no traffic benefit from any of this extra typing, which is sure to angry up my blood a little more. And an angry Shooter is a funny Shooter, right?

205 Drop: Top 10 overexposed stadium audio moments

The premise for today's list is inherently faulty and flawed, because it deals with an idea -- that people do not like repetition and certainty -- which has no basis in reality. My prior career in original music is living proof.

Ever wonder why you don't like most new music that you hear? It's because our first instinct toward anything new is to distrust and/or demean it. That reaction is the safer play. To like something, and more importantly, to admit it out loud, carries a tiny moment of risk. What if the band that plays your new song turns out to be embarrassing later, via one-hit wonder status, terrible interviews or questionable marketing decisions?

But a curious thing happens, usually around the fifth to tenth listen of a song; it becomes familiar to you. You start to wonder why you keep hearing this, and if it's not a matter of blaming some outside entity for inflicting it on you (those damned stadium operators!), you'll figure out some reason why you like it. Listen to that bass line, it's really melodic. I like the way the singer uses their breath noises to serve the rhythm. The chorus has a great hook. And so on.

My band never had what you'd call a radio hit, but we did have songs that people responded to more than others, and certainly, songs we liked more than others, which stayed in our set list for years. The crowds we attracted came to expect those songs in our set and geeked for them, in a fashion; if we played an entire set of new songs, or didn't throw them a bone twice a set with a cover they recognized, it would take a very spot-on performance, or a pretty alcohol-lubricated crowd, to get them whooping along like a good rock and roll audience. People like the familiar; they need it. Until your music is familiar, it's work. The great New York performance artist Laurie Anderson had a term for it: the difficult listening hour. That sums it up nicely.

I believe that listening to new music is an essential part of keeping your brain fresh, and well worth the pain of sifting through the +90% crap that you get. But I also get that many people aren't going to put themselves through that work. It's the reason why, well, the lists always get more traffic than the diatribes.

(Now, user fatigue does exist, and might be quickening up over time. When you've heard a song a few hundred times, I'd argue that you have to be really good at living in your own head and tuning out the world. The Shooter Wife, who stays home with the kids with all of the torturous sounds that childhood entails, is much better at enduring this than me; it's one of the reasons, I think, why parenting is the hardest job you'll ever have. But that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.)

So you might not think that you like formula and repetition, or that you really need to go along with stomp-stomp-clap, stomp-stomp-clap the next time you hear it in a stadium. But, well, you will.

Just as, if you're still reading me at this point, you're probably reading me again at some point. Though it probably does still feel like work.

Three Small Moments of Mean

1) NFL QB Trent Green to hang 'em up after 15 years, with hopes of pursuing a broadcast career.Considering that this is the probably the most memorable moment of the man's recent career...

I'm assuming that his analysis will consist of moans, drooling noises and other Aikman-esque noises. He'll fit in just fine.

2) Ryan Leaf has until Thursday to turn himsefl in or face the wrath of Texas law. Here's your money quote:

"He can run, but he can't hide and we will find him," said James Farren, the district attorney for Randall County, Texas, according to the report.

Um, having watched Leaf's pro career... I'm pretty he can't run, either.

3) Sammy Sosa allegedy testing positive for drugs, as part of that increasingly less anonymous 'roid list from back in the day. Good thing I was sitting down for the news that Sosa' juiced. Truly surprising and revelatory news like that, you could easily faint from the shock, really.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

205 Drop: Top 11 signs your fantasy football habit is getting out of control

Today's drop is a matter of writing what you know, and lo, I do know fantasy football addiction. How bad is it? I'm giving serious consideration to trying to work out a permanent Big Board situation for my Man Space, because what I've found commercially just isn't close enough to what I will need for my August auction draft. What I want is a large board that doesn't go very deep, because my draft is only 15 rounds long. Also, I'd like the ability to move names around on the board, rather than have one-shot labels that tear up things if you make a placement mistake. Oh, and a comely lass or two to handle the paperwork, hopefully with the ability to distract the more salacious owners. And a second screen with tele-conferencing, so that I can extend invitations beyond my local area. Small things, really.

And yes, the real way to do this kind of thing is to have a monstrous plasma screen, so that your board stays entirely digital and can work in all kinds of bells and whistles. Casino operators of the world, I'm telling you, there's a real market to a crazed high-end experience with waitstaff, a dais, an auctioneer, a television crew and analysts to rip owner picks like it's the regular NFL draft, etc., etc...

Six Flags of Fail

Here's a fun little story in the WaPo today, tipped off by Ad Age and some other trade pubs, of how Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder has (finally) spit the bit with his investment in Six Flags, which is an amusement park operator with dozens of locations across the U.S.

Now, I'm fairly sure that it would be impossible for any establishment in that line of business to avoid financial horrors in this economy. Disney is down, tourism is down; hell, everything but staying home and staring at the walls until they start talking to you is down. But Snyder's insistence on making Six Flags something that it wasn't -- historically, it's the place to go when you are 12 to 18, whereas the new management move was to make it compete for younger kids and more of a family play -- has been wrong all along, because it took them from a unique spot in the market to just another player.

Then again, it's not exactly like a man will go broke betting against Snyder's brainstorms...

Monday, June 15, 2009

205 Drop: Top 11 consolations for Laker Haters

If I've learned anything from the Sports Blogging Experience (debatable), it's this: my pain equals your amusement. So take the link and let me get my wallow on, in my usual lemon / lemon-scented car freshener that will actually turn petro-chemically and kind of nasty way. It's what I do.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lakers-Magic Game Five: Confetti Bucket Close

It would be wrong to say that the Lakers made the Magic quit in their championship clinching win tonight. The Magic deserve better than that in a year where they won two out of three series against 60-win teams, not to mention winning a Game Seven in Boston. But while the Magic were certainly in Games 2 through 4, and the series could have easily gone to a Game Six, there was no way they were winning four games out of seven against the Lakers. The reason why is that the Lakers didn't just have the best player in the floor in Kobe Bryant. They also had the best big man in Pau Gaosl.

No one wants to imagine, perhaps outside of Los Angeles, that Gasol is a better player than Dwight Howard. But he, well, is. Offensively, of course, there really is no question about that, in that Gasol has wonderful hands and a wealth of crafty low post moves, whereas Howard is simply an energy player -- the best in the Association, but that's it. Defensively, Howard is fantastic at weakside help, but not so much on the ball, and unlike Howard, Gasol stays on the floor without having foul problems. There's also the fact that Gasol doesn't miss enough free throws as to make him a liability on the floor in a late and close game. You know, like Howard was when his misses opened the door for the Lakers comeback in the Game 4 overtime loss that more or less ended their year.

Would the Magic be a better team with Gasol instead of Howard? No. Howard's skills are perfectly suited to the Magic's peculiar brand of big payday jump shooting, and Gasol's interior passing skills would go to waste without a Lamar Odom-esque fellow big to take advantage.

And now, the fairly abbreviated mini-blog of what was a mostly dull game, and a pretty blah close to a great playoff year.

In the first half, the Magic got the early lead, but then the Lakers ripped off a 16-0 run in the second quarter, sparked by Trevor Ariza. Ariza came to life after a double technical with Hedo Turkoglu. Stan van Gundy screamed himself hoarse -- yes, there is a difference -- and lo, the home team looked like crap... but then Rashard Lewis finally made the Magic's first three of the game after 22.5 minutes. An immediate Coach Philip timeout said he wanted to close this tonight, and an Ariza bank prayer was followed by Derek Fisher flopping a call on Dwight Howard to stop the momentum. A flurry of Magic misses at the buzzer closed things at Lakers 56, Magic 46, and it's not looking good for ABC to get a Game Six. The third quarter was no different, and when Jordan Farmer is throwing in crazy bank shot runners to close out quarters, it's Officially Confetti Bucket Time. The third ended with the Lakers up 15, 76 to 61.

At the end of the third quarter, the NBA runs a thank you message from the various playoff team's top performers, and, um, boy did that feel like a good bye speech from the Association. Not exactly a rousing moment of hope for the Magic there. Neither was the forced in-game interview with van Gundy, who has the look of a man who knows he'll never be on this stage again. After a tough Gasol make over Gortat, the Lakers had their largest lead until Reddick canned a corner three... but Reddick gives and taketh away, and a Bryant make over him was way too easy, as was the next possession Reddick turnover. Note, also, that Coach Philip started the fourth with Bryant on the floor to go for the kill.

A Nelson cut it to 13, and Howard returned with five fouls and 9:22 to play. Over-dribbling and two misses by Nelson made it even more obvious that the team wasn't helped by his return, and then Bryant buried the final dagger with a three over Turkoglu to make it 16. The Lemur has already given Bryant the MVP trophy, which is a little awkward, given that they did that a week ago, really. After the timeout, Lewis missed so badly, making him just 3 for 13 from the floor at that point, as to make me wonder if he's suffering from bad eyesight. Bucket trades just added to Ariza's next contract, at least until he missed a hammer dunk at 6 minutes left. I'm fairly sure you could have held an Amway convention in the Amway Arena right now, and not notice the game still going on, there's so little noise. The Lemur heads sought to fill the void by fervently polishing Kobe's knob even as he missed some forced shots, and that sound you heard was tons of millions of sets being turned off. I left mine on just to see if there would be any flagrancy, and while the Magic did cut the final margin a bit, there wasn't. Your final was Lakers 99, Magic 86, and I'm pretty sure that Bryant worked harder at his post-game celebratory leaping then he did for most of the fourth quarter.

I suppose that I should be pleased with the outcome, since it wrapped up my playoff pick win against The Truth, and Coach Philip has finally taken the hated Red Auerbach out of the record books. But being happy for a Laker win would be a new and unique feeling in my life, and there's any number of wildly unfortunate metaphors that I'm going to take a pass on.

And with that (and, of course, a list or two later), we end the annual NBA domination of this here blog, which means that the rest of you folks can take a deep breath of relief. Get ready for 2-3 months of MLB, and as always, thank you for your patronage.

Two Brief Questions For Guys Who Obsess About Uniforms

(Inspired by the Phillies' broadcast crew today, who spent most of the eighth and ninth innings of a win over the Red Sox talking about jerseys.)

1) Isn't most of your existence just spent trying to get everyone to go for the uniform of your childhood?, and

2) At what point does your obsession with clothes make you start, well, wondering about your commitment to traditional gender roles?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lakers-Magic Game Four: Drama Now, But Not Later

Tonight in Orlando, the Lakers continued their playoff-long pattern of answering a loss with a win, but it really felt much more like a gift from the home team, and especially, their coach. This one will be the game that Magic Fan remembers with bitter satisfaction when Stan Van Gundy is canned in 18 to 24 months.

In the first half, Dwight Howard had as many rebounds (14) as the entire Lakers team combined. As you might have gathered from that little tidbit, the Laker bigs didn't exactly bring their "A" game early, and if it weren't for a few extra Magic turnovers, it would have been a lot uglier than Magic 49, Lakers 37.

In the third, Trevor Ariza went crazy Broadway style, and the Magic tightened up badly as the Magic tossed aside the lead in less than half of the quarter. The pace picked up along with the nastiness, as Howard and Bryant got tangled up and threw bitchy elbows at each other, causing Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy to get physical basketball wood. Honestly, the way these guys pine for '90s UglyBall is just sad. The quarter ended with Bryant making some tough shots, Jameer Nelson continuing to somehow get playing time for no possible reason, and the Lakers up, 67 to 63. That's a 30-14 quarter for the Lakers, and Magic Fan ended things by bitching about the refs.

In the fourth, the Magic took the lead back with balanced scoring and Turkoglu making some big shots, then just plain gave away the game, and in all likelihood, the series. Dwight Howard missed two free throws that could have iced it, and then Nelson let Derek Fisher hit a three with just under 5 seconds left to force overtime. That's the second time we've gotten extra ball in four games in this series, and the first time in 30 years that has happened, and just like in the other overtime game, it was pretty obvious from the momentum swing that the Magic were in serious trouble.

As we moved to past midnight in the East, the overtime kept the drama up. A ridiculous Lewis three started it, and the Lakers answered with two Bryant makes. After tough defense and too much Kobe watching by the other Lakers, the Magic eventually tied it back up with a lone Howard free throw make. Bryant nearly made a great runner, and the Lakers retained possession from a Nelson foul. That was huge, since the next play was Bryant passing to Fisher out of the post, complete with an uncalled elbow to Nelson's chin. The subsequent three will have any number of howls over how Bryant should have gotten a whistle; that's just a no-call by the refs where the offensive foul created the opportunity. It's going to have any number of referee conspiracy theorists claiming how the Lakers win was tainted, and I'm really not loving the idea of taking up for Bryant on an obvious foul... but honestly, when you can't make a free throw or defend the three with five seconds left in regulation, my sympathies for the ref screw job in overtime aren't huge.

A Turk missed three and back tap created an open lay up to Gasol, and the lead was five with less than 22 seconds. Another Turk missed three was followed by the Lakers playing keepaway, ending with a Gasol dunk and ugliness, as Pietrus took two hands to the back for no good reason and matching technicals. And that's your final: Lakers 99, Magic 91, for a 3-1 Lakers lead.

This much overtime and tightness tells you something strong about this series, which is that despite the seemingly commanding lead, neither team can get much separation. Maybe the Magic could if Nelson ever saw the bench again, or if he regained his pre-injury form, but that's looking really unlikely now. And maybe the Lakers will just come out and close this thing down in Game Five, the way they did to the Rockets on their home floor in Game Six. But I'm not seeing it; I think the Magic win a close Game Five, then fold like a pup tent on the road in Game Six, which will be where the Lakers want to win this. A properly coached team, or one with a superstar who can hit the icing free throws, has this series at 2-2... and heck, while we're dreaming, let's also give them the Courtney Lee miss in Game Two to make it 3-1 Magic.

Or we could, you know, stay in reality.

This series is over, the Lakers are going to wear the crown, Bryant's the MVP, and the world will little note, nor long remember, just how thin their margin actually was.

205 Drop: Top 11 NBA Finals Questions After Game Four

List now, analysis soon. I think if I were a Magic fan, I'd be outside Stan Van Gundy's house with a torch...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is fantasy sports gambling?

A loyal FTT reader (yes, we have them!) asked me this the other day. Let's hash it out

The case for yes:

> If it involves sports and money and the outcome of games, it's gambling. It might be peculiar betting, or very nerdy betting, or really small betting, given the amount of play that your wager gets over the course of a year. But it's gambling.

> The feel of a score is the exact same in both endeavors. When your guy hits a 3-run homer, your team covers the spread, or your trifecta comes in at the dog track, it's the same adrenalin rush and fist pump.

> Vice is vice, really -- and the amount of time that you spend working a fantasy league puts most forms of gambling to shame. A race track regular with his racing forms and multiple publications has nothing on a roto hound on draft day.

The case for no:

> Given the number of minute bets that are involved -- most leagues either play for little money, or comparatively little money, with one annual entry fee -- it just doesn't seem like any kind of gambling that could lead to any kind of deeper action. As gateway drugs go, this is a sugar pill.

> In most forms of gambling, there's a cold moment of taking money from a defeated opponent that's mitigated by the introduction of institutions. You take money from the casino, the bookie, or a state government. When you do it with In fantasy sports, you are getting paid by your friends and relations, mostly in a good-natured way. There's the implication (if not the reality) that you're just basically lending money back and forth over the years, and people rarely, if ever, get sore over the payoff. Compare this to real gambling, where chips are handed over grudgingly, whining is common, and going away mad is almost part of the payoff. When you lose in fantasy sports, it's expected and fairly painless. When you lose in conventional gambling, it takes much more of a chunk.

> Unlike most forms of gambling, the payday in fantasy sports isn't (completely) about the money. Many leagues do some form of trophy or keepsake, and the ownership of that piece is more important than the ownership of the money. After all, the cash is going to get spent.

For my money, fantasy sports *are* gambling... but this may be just because I commish three leagues, so I'm actually handling the greenbacks over the course of the year. In my baseball and football auction / keeper leagues, this means I'm handling hundreds of dollars in cash on Draft Day, and any time you are handling the cabbage, it's got the feel of Real Gambling.

But I can see how your mileage may vary, especially if you are convinced that your participation in a league wouldn't change at all if it swore off any pay-in / pay-out... or if your actual gambling hasn't changed in the years since you've joined a league. For me, the money is the spur that I need to do the grunt work; without it, the clear wankery of the exercise would become overwhelming, and I'd find some other timewaste. You know, like blogging...

205 Drop: Top 10 fringe benefits of sports blogging

Today's link will tell you why I do what I do. So many, many reasons, really...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What Game Is Phil Jackson Playing?

Fairly fascinating story here. You remember the defining moment of Game Two of the NBA Finals, when Magic rookie guard Courtney Lee missed a tough layup off a great inbounds pass at the buzzer? The one that if he had made it, the Magic would have split their games in LA and would now be leading 2-1 in the best of seven, with the chance to finish things without returning to LA?

Well, Lakers coach Phil Jackson thinks his team cheated, in that Lakers' center Pau Gasol might have brushed the bottom of the net as he attempted to block the shot, and should have lost the game. No, seriously.

"It's called basket interference," Jackson said Tuesday. "Even if you hit the net supposedly in the process that's part of it, but that rule is kind of archaic. It isn't called in this day and age as much, but when we were in high school -- that was something a high school ref might call, basket interference."

Jackson couldn't recall a game ending on a goaltending call, but felt this one should have.

He was asked if the correct call was made.

"According to the rules, it was not," he said. "It wasn't made."
As to the actual play, I'm not sure why brushing the bottom of the net in a way that had absolutely no impact on the chance of the shot going in should be a game-ending call. Since no one else noticed it in the two days since the play happened, you can see how it's a reach for a call at best. Considering the way Trevor Ariza manhandled people in that fourth quarter, it's hard to see how a basket interference was going to be called. Finally, and not inconsequentially, the Lakers were at home, and if you don't make the call, the game is decided in overtime, rather than by the refs. If you make that play 100 times at the buzzer, it's called as basket interference... zero times, really.

I think the Magic have been getting the short end of the stick from the zebras so far, but they've admirably refused to play that card. Considering how the coaches have worked the refs in the post-game press conferences this playoff season, I think it's kind of refreshing / amazing to hear Jackson take this tack.

But from the sense of realpolitick that pervades everything the man does, I can't quite get why he's going this way. Doesn't this fall under the purview of giving the refs the impetus for a get-even call? Or six?

I think the point speaks to five possible motivations for Coach Philip.

1) He's out. The man's old, banging the owner's daughter, has all the money he's ever going to want, and about to pass Red Auerbach for the only coaching mark that's still open to him. He also knows that when Bryant's legs go -- and it's not going to be too much longer, really -- this Lakers team isn't going to win. Leave before the downfall, and his mystique is intact; stay, and you get to work with Bryant while his ego is in full bloom, without the make-good powers. It wouldn't surprise me if he takes a walk after this series. (But only if he wins.)

2) He's bored. He's in a Finals against a coach that played head games with his starting point guard, gave JJ Reddick crunch-time minutes, and might be the most-hated coach of a successful team ever. This, after a series in which he had to go up against George Karl, who couldn't devise an inbounds play to save his life. Put yourself in Phil's shoes: this is like playing the toughest multi-day poker tournament on the planet, only to discover that the final group is made up of people who pick their feet at the table and put the cards on their foreheads. You'd throw it back, too.

3) He's playing a different game. Maybe he sees something he likes in Lee, and is laying the seed of a future free agent signing by having his back here. Or he sees this as an opportunity for greater media run, possibly a little bit of a PR bath for all of the snide crap he's said over the years about opposing team's crowds.

4) He's trying to get his team's attention. After the Game One confetti bucket line, the Magic have played the Lakers at even or better, and it's possible -- not likely, but possible -- that Jackson doesn't think he's got the talent to just win this without going to the whip. So he denigrates his own team's win, subtly, to try to get them to amp up the intensity and close things out early, because he thinks his team's vulnerable if the Magic get some momentum. (If this one is the case, it didn't work, at least not in Game Three... though frankly, the Magic shot the ball so well last night, I'm not sure that we can draw the lesson that the Lakers didn't bring their "A" game.)

5) He's showing off. Give the man his due; he came up with a fresh take on the ending of one of the more over-analyzed endings in recent NBA history. The rest of the media (and I went there too) went for the Nick Anderson Play, but Phil found a new way to cover the ground, because he's just smarter than everyone else. Look, he knows Zen and everything. How are you supposed to compete?

Personally, I'm going for #4, because while #1 makes sense, the man enjoys having money and fame too much. But your mileage may vary.

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