Saturday, June 30, 2012

Top 10 reaons why Yu Darvish doesn't think he deserves an All-Star Game slot

10) Reached to own himself in his fantasy league, and feels that the pick is totally the reason why his team's not winning

9) Doesn't quite understand that the rest of the parks he's now pitching in are a lot easier to work in than the Arlington Launching Pad

8) Like many Japanese, has a very questionable work ethic and wants to avoid any extra days at the job

7) Doesn't want to end up like Neftali Feliz

6) Somehow isn't seeing an extra trip to Kansas City in July as any kind of a reward

5) Thinks that if he goes, he'll have to pitch a complete game, just to impress Nolan Ryan

4) Was really hoping to spend the 3-day break to fly halfway back to Japan

3) Feels much shame for his 1.38 WHIP, which has brought much dishonor to the Darvish name

2) Believes that no rookie should be able to be in the All Star Game, and that to cross that line would show a critical lack of humility and what the Japanese call wa

1) Already feels terrible about taking one American job, and doesn't want to double the damage

Friday, June 29, 2012

FTT Off-Topic: Louie

As always with FTT O-T, it's a big wide Web, so much so that it might even be worldly in nature. When you see the Off-Topic label, this isn't going to be sports, and you get to move along if you aren't here to watch me dance in a new place. On with it.

 In the Internet age, where everything is fragmented and no one watches everything, very few people are watching just what you are watching; everything is cult and niche and small beer.

And yet, there's still the feeling that you are being hack when you say the obvious thing, or hype the thing that it feels like everyone knows about. For me, right now, that's "Louie", the labor of love from top-drawer sad-sack comedian Louis CK.

If you aren't actually familiar with Louie's work, you need to be, and with a quickness, and there's really no reason why you aren't. There's ample clips on YouTube, lots of appearances on talk shows, any number of DVDs and instant access stuff on Netflix, and so on, and so on.

And while all of that is well and good, his series is actually the best thing he's done, and probably the least funny.

Louie's schtick is self-doubt and self-hate, all kinds of poor choices and bad ideas... but it's not jokey, or hack. Widely described as a comedian's comedian, I'm still not sure how he became as popular as he is right now, and I'm kind of looking forward to five to ten years from now, when he's gone back to the shadows where he's far more comfortable.

When you catch interviews with the guy, it doesn't seem like any kind of an act. It would be hard to take if it weren't so honest, so heartfelt, and so frequently universal. The man has done more for the cause of honest parental humor than anyone since, well, maybe Bill Cosby back when the man wasn't a borderline corporation of smug.

"Louie", the FX show, has the feeling of a more or less cinema verite documentary of his life, even when it's dreamlike or silly or over-the-top. Louie himself is a much better comic and dramatic actor than he'll ever give himself credit for being, but part of that is that he's really not stretching too far for this; much of the show is just the clear extrapolation of his stand-up act, but with solid actors and A-level friends.

In season 2, now available on Netflix Instant and more or less inhaled by me this week, you get Joan Rivers, Doug Stanhope, Chris Rock, Jim Norton, Todd Barry and more, and none of it seems forced or staged. Also, I kind of love his kids, because they are so true to life, both in their moments of kindness and their moments of manipulation.

It just rings true, and right, and meaningful. This isn't to say that this is all fun to watch, or that there aren't strong moments and scenes of drama mixed with the stand-up appearances and set pieces. It's also not something I'm going to show to a kid, no matter how much they might want to see it. (I'm kind of amazed this runs on basic cable, rather than a pay channel.)

But the plain and simple fact of it is that very funny people can also be very good dramatic actors, and when you couple that with the raging intellect and desire to make something that hasn't ever been made before, you could just have something great.

And that's Louie. Just great.

Season 3 just started, and the first two seasons are widely available. Go watch it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top 10 takeaways from the NBA Draft

10) David Stern engineered an incredible conspiracy to make sure that the Hornets got to draft Austin Rivers

9) The Cavs were very excited to spend the 8th pick in the draft on a guy who didn't even start for his college team

8) Andre Drummond went to Detroit, which is kind of interesting news to Greg Monroe, who plays the same position and might be their only other good young player

7) Only one player in the first round came from overseas, which means this draft must totally suck

6) Kentucky had three players chosen in the top nine picks, which leads me to believe that they must have been good last year

5) Warriors fans are really psyched about getting Harrison Barnes, a skinny 6'-8" power forward with a jump shot, because this worked out so well the last time, when he was named Antwan Jamison

4) John Wall might be bent out of shape by his club taking Bradley Beal, a similar guard from Florida, after all he's done to make this franchise better

3) Portland reached for a point guard from the basketball powerhouse that is Weber State, then followed it up with a big white center from Illinois, because Paul Allen totally does not need to hire an experienced or competent GM

2) My Sixers got just what they needed - an athletic tweener swingman with suspect range -- because you can never have enough of those guys

1) Every team after the first two picks was very, very surprised when the guy they drafted was still there

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

ESPN Is Trying To Get You To Watch Less Sports

What Is Sent
Where It Goes
So leading off on Deadspin today is your shot in the bucket measure of full distaste from Drew Magary over how the World Wide Lemur is going to give Chris Berman that bonus MNF turd game (Chargers-Raiders, aka the annual reminder that the Raiders still aren't ready to turn all of those high draft picks into a good football team) on Opening Weekend.

Now, this may not seem like that big of a deal to you. After all, the MNF Second is likely the fifth football game of the long weekend that you can watch, after the Thursday night game, the two on Sunday afternoon, the earlier MNFer and then this one. The teams don't really matter, the rivalry not so intense unless you live in CA, and the lateness of the hour means that you can hie yourself off to bed, safe and secure that you have pushed yourself away from the too-big banquet of NFLery, before you feel totally piggish.

Not me.

Since I do the blogwork and the NFL is one of the three things I write about often, not watching games is downright difficult. I also tend to get more involved, not less, in the games that happen after my daughters go to bed. If I were a much smarter man, I'd just DVR everything, spend my game time in blissful ignorance, refuse to check my fantasy leagues until the week was fully over and get back an unconscious number of hours per year. And, well, if the day job keeps being as busy as it has been, I just might.

But all of that is not, can not, will not keep me from wallowing in the turgid, flaccid, self-satisfied fappery that will be the Berman Game.

Because, well, my two best keepers in my fantasy league, the two best properties in terms of possible return on income at their keeper price...

are Darren McFadden and Philip Rivers.

There's no way I can avoid this game. There's no way that I can keep myself from spending 3+ hours with a man who I would not urinate on if he were on fire. There's no way I can't keep my brain from hating everything about myself for watching this, for contributing to the ratings that tell The World Wide War Criminals that Everybody Loves Berman, and that they should do this more often.

Perhaps every Monday night. As the only guy in the booth, seeing how they've had so many layoffs recently. Or perhaps they can partner him with Dennis Miller and Tony Kornheiser in a psychological experiment to see if they can make secular Americans think twice about the existence of Hell, and in particular, the Ironic Torture Division. (WATCH FOOTBALL FOR ALL ETERNITY, SINNER... BUT ONLY WITH THESE GUYS AS COMMENTATORS, AND THERE'S NO MUTE! MUHAHAHAHAHAHA!)


I used to think that ESPN, even on its most ham-handed day, was better than the other terrible entities that broadcast the game. CBS has a pregame crew that's just so bad at what they actually do, it defies belief. Fox, I can feel my brain cells die at the nonstop nitrous chucklefest. NBC is so unctuous, with Holy Bob Costas and Holier Tony Dungy, as to make me want to punch a vegan and feed him steak, under the off chance or understanding that this would be the network he'd watch if he ever watches football. (The secret winner? NFLN, who does it so cheaply with the on-air talent, and with such earnestness as to be painful in the hype, but at least focuses on the damn game they are televising.)

But now? They are *all* better than ESPN, if only because they don't employ Berman, and all that he represents. Those networks would pop a vein to get you to watch them and try something new every year in terms of camera angles. (Personally, I'm waiting for one that is actually on the ball, so that fumble piles get to be rendered in all of their hidden horror.) ESPN? They know you are watching. They have no fear that you aren't watching. They care only about the rubber neckers, the spare mouth breathing millions who might actually turn on the game because the BACK BACK BACK BACK BACK guy say DA RAIDERZZZ ten or a thousand times, like some kind of nervous tic or '70s sitcom catch phrase twerp.

They Are. The Worst.

And if I think about this long enough, it's going to make me trade Rivers and McFadden for nothing, just to avoid watching them.

Or get a DVR...

Top 10 reasons why Larry Bird is leaving the Pacers

10) Kind of doubts the team is going to get tougher just because he said so

9) Being so much better at his job than Isiah Thomas kind of gets old after a few decades

8) Just realized that his team's best player is, in fact, Danny Freaking Granger

7) Tired of having to brown-bag his lunch, like every other GM of a small market team

6) Knows that after you've been named executive of the year, you've got about 18 months before the pink slip

5) Would rather devote his energy to buying another team, since that's a better way to humiliate Michael Jordan

4) Understands that no matter how well he keeps up appearances, he'll never be sexier than Donnie Walsh to them

3) Never really got over having to move that adorable Ron Artest fellow

2) Wants to be sure he's going out on, well, kind of somewhere in the middle, I guess

1) Secretly really, really hates living in Indiana, and everyone who lives there

CFB Goes From A Hundred Years Behind The Times To Sixty

So college football's champion will finally be decided on the field, like, well, every other football league on the planet, from high school to pro, and it is, of course, a big deal, no matter how dumb and flawed every step of the process has been.

Ignore for the moment that this will only start in 2014, because we can elect a President in less time than we can change college football. Ignore as well the fact that there will be just four teams in the playoff, which means that we'll spend all of the pre-playoff season wondering who will be Bubble Team, or how whole conferences and regions of the country won't so much as sniff this thing, or how a single loss and weak schedule means that you could be the best team ever for 3+ months and still not get a sniff. It's college football; rampant improprieties and staggering unfairness are right there on the hand stamp when you enter this theme park. But hey, it's football, for stakes that matter, you can gamble, and there's laundry to root for. Had I grown up with it, or cared more about the place that took my money when I went to college, I'd care. I'd care a lot.

Rather, I want to consider this...

When will they, you know, actually get it right, rather than just existing?

This works best, of course, when it's in the 12 to 16 team range, the way the NFL does it. That way, you've got teams from coast to coast and in every region, you've got the inherent wonder of a low seed going far (with 4 teams, CFB has pretty much outlawed the idea of a dark horse or Cinderella team), and you've greatly increased the chance of the playoff games also touching on some deep-seated hatreds. Once CFB has tasted that sweet nectar of an end of season that's actually a building action of excitement, rather than a month away for a sloppy game that's more often like preseason rather than post, they are going to want more of it. Much more.

It's also going to, I suspect, hurt the short-term prospects of minor league football or a spring league, which is something that I've been hoping for since, well, the early 1980s, when my beloved Philadelphia Stars of the USFL felt like a great little secret league of pure joy, not to mention a wonderful way to avoid summer doldrums. In the short run, enhanced interest in CFB is going to lead to more betting, more money spent on games, and more NFL fans giving the games a try, because the whole thing won't seem quite so pointless and arbitrary now.

But in the long run, what this leads to is even more football taking up even more time, and even more players getting real attention. I still fervently wish for education and entertainment to be forcibly separated; these pursuits are in no way complementary, and a successful program is more like a drug habit than a real benefit to a school. (Full disclosure: I went to Syracuse. In the late '80s, when both the football and basketball teams competed for national titles, and didn't get there. At the same time that this was happening, they raised the tuition 35% in three years, contributing to a decade of debt and poor living conditions as I tried to recover from my commitment, and no real enhancement of the educational reputation or value of my degrees. But hey, um, we got a new logo. And some new buildings. Woo.)

Of course, that's not how you bet.

These casinos exist now, and will continue to exist, until something seismic (massive class-action lawsuit from former players around head trauma in later life? NFL deciding that they need to make every last dollar from every last football fan in America? The parents and youth of America rising with torches and pitchforks towards college campuses, Occupy Style but armed, to drive down tuition by any means necessary?) happens, they'll be in business. They've been there for a century, so being around until we've got much bigger issues to worry about seems likely. A playoff now makes CFB more competitive and less dismissive, and gets them to stop hurting themselves in an evolve or die marketplace.

And like young people wondering about how anyone ever bought CDs for $20 that only had a couple of songs you wanted on them, or how people my age wonder about an era when every man had to wear hats all the time, or the older generation than that wondering about getting around on horseback or owning other people...

We'll never, for the life of us, understand how anyone could have ever been so backwards as to live like that. And secretly be proud of living in a time where we aren't so challenged.

So welcome, CFB, to the mid 20th century. We applaud the development, and eagerly anticipate you joining the 21st. Probably in about another 20 years or so. But hey, progress, right?

Aroldis Sticks The Landing

This is Aroldis Chapamn, possibly the hardest throwing left-handed reliever in baseball history, celebrating his first converted save in quite some time.

Now, I kind of love this for many, many reasons.

First, I own Chapman is on my fantasy league team, and the last two weeks have been a very un-fun regression to the mean. If it means he's back on the beam, I don't care if he prances around like an underfed smurf from East Abusistan.

Second, the over the top reaction from the Reds' play by play team is kind of awesome. WHAT IN THE WORLD! WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? Um, it's a goofy lefty rolling around on the ground. Just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it's all that intense.

Third, you have to think the Brewers are going to get all kinds of bent out of shape from this, and the next game will be good and brawly. It's late June, we've got nothing else to talk about, and the All Star break is a lovely time to serve your joke-tastic MLB suspension. Throw down, gentlemen. HONOR DEMANDS IT.

Fourth, if this is the new level of tasteless closer celebration -- and the fact that this is getting the play that it is proves that, well, yes, it's working -- I can't wait to see what happens next. Can Jose Valverde pull off the backflip and stick the landing? (Doing it off the mound might make it a little easier.) Will Frank Francisco walk like a chicken? Is Jonathan Papelbon ready to treat the third base line like a balance beam and do a walkover to the crab position? I'm the father of a gymnast and just aching for a way to feel better about knowing all of these new terms. Plus, it might be a way to get my kid to start finally caring about baseball!

Fifth and final, if you think that pitchers rolling around is fun, the joy of pitchers rolling around and getting hurt... is just going to get much, much better when some big ball of goo pulls a hammy or catches a spike and hurts himself up nice. It's going to make Bill Gramatica look tame, folks...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

FTT Off-Topic: Breaking Bad, Season 4. "Well? Get Back To Work."

Get Down With Your Bad, Bad, Bad Self
So the best show in the history of TV, or at least the one that pushes my buttons better than anything that ever came before it, is now on my DVD player in the middle of Season 4, and on your Netflix Instant queue through season 3... and good God Almighty, why isn't everyone in America watching this thing?

Oh, right, because it's the reddest red meat ever put on a small screen, with themes and writing and acting and grind grind grind. It's not for kids, not for everyone since the plot is absolutely relentless and the action downright hard to watch at times, especially when the consequences for bad behavior come home to roost.

How good is this show? So good that when an actor walks on to a scene, does not speak a word of dialogue for six minutes while another character just keeps talking and talking and talking, the first guy is the most watchable guy imaginable. It ends with horror, and then the title of this little fan rant is spoken, out loud and with absolute chill. Complete genius.

The actors in this show are just of an unceasingly high quality, the dialogue so good, and it's all done without cheats, without special effects or dues ex machina...

All I know is that I can't stop watching this show, and the way that it stares, unblinking, into the abyss of human behavior. It's got things to say about the existence of evil, and the thought process behind the writing, pace and thematic choices...

And here's the real magic about it.

It just keeps getting better.


I have to watch myself for when I start watching any DVD of this, because I can't have it on when the kids are awake, and I can't go to bed until I've inhaled every single second of footage. There are long pauses of silence here, and I wind up pausing the show just to keep from staring down the screen into fragments. I laugh, deep and hard and dark, at moments that go behond funny, then laugh more when I play the commentary tracks (oh, yes, I play the commentary tracks), which sound like a nitreous party, because Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston and the rest of the case seem like they are having more fun making the darkest show ever...

Then, well, anyone who ever made a comedy.

Anyway, go, watch, devour, light up.

But don't tell me any plot points or spoilers, because this thing is going to get me through at least another week of the long hot summer of no vacation and not enough sports...

Just Wait Already, Or Why Fantasy Drafts In June Are All Kinds Of Wrong

So I get these emails, I do, as being the oldest continuingly operating low-traffic sports blog in all of Blogfrica... and they ask me to participate in mock fantasy football drafts, so that some other Web site can generate a few thousand words of free pointless copy.

And hey, I like free pointless copy as much as the next guy, and it's late June, when the only thing that exists is dog day baseball and NBA aftermath, and this blog will not go down the Olympic path. So why not join in a pointless draft and engage your fellow hole fillers?

Because, well, I just resent the shrinking of the calendar. Don't you? It's one of the signs of Creeping Codgerdom that you really hate what happens to holidays, since they are always ahead of the event. My kids finished school last week, and I'm pretty sure that there will be Back To School sales within a couple of weeks, if they haven't started already. One of my clients at the Paying Gig (it's no longer a Day Job, since I can pretty much do it 24/7 now if I care to) sells Halloween costumes, and that season starts in, gulp, August. (Parents go first, then teens, then adults before the deadline. It makes sense, since you need to acclimate a little kid to wearing a costume, but still -- you are buying a Halloween costume 3 months in advance. Seek help.)

July, dammit, is the time to *start* thinking about football, with low-pressure preseason games and camp battles serving as the backdrop to your over-reading,, and unforeseen injuries making everything seem like you've started too soon with your rankings. August is the time to massage those rankings. Late August is the time to actually draft. Doing any of these things any earlier than that is just *begging* the Fantasy Gods to strike your picks down with mange, cholera, veneral disease and jungle fever, because you have made the ridiculous decision to draft players before several months of their day to day life. Since the day to day lives of football players generally involves having an endless series of car accidents for a career.

So why do we do it?

Simple; no one knows how to stop watching sports, and very few people, in terms of the overall marketplace, wants to stop thinking about anything but football.

I'm lucky, in that my hoops fix is total, and my roto baseball team hasn't been too terrible yet; it means that February through June is a long hot bath of the NBA, wondering why everyone else doesn't want to get in the jacuzzi. But if you aren't into the second and third choices, Februry through July is just a constant slog of Waiting For Football, and the waiting makes people snap and draft fantasy teams at an absurd time of the year.

So here's what I think you should do instead: read a book. Or six. Watch a bunch of movies and TV shows that are outside of your comfort zone. Give more of your day to your kids or your spouse or your friends or even your work; that last bit is actually canny strategy, since the people who work hard in summer drag stand out like Hummers at the Trader Joe's.

Me, I'm going to try to write things that I haven't written before (hard, since we're over 4,000 posts now). I'll continue to explore new ways to play poker, up my gym time, swim more, do the yard work without hate, and maybe even up the sleep level to the point where narcolepsy isn't a constant worry.

In short, I'm going to recharge, and regroup, and try not to think about football before it's really time to think about football.

And while the world won't do the same, that doesn't make it right. But I'm old enough to not care too much about what the world thinks.

Or to participate in mock drafts in freaking June...

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Ten Types Of Gymnastics Parents

(A small word: gymnastic classes are not cheap. If you like this article, forward it to your friends, click on the links, and buy a Five Tool Tool T-shirt. Or twelve. They make great leotards!)

Oh, I have watched you, my fellow caretakers. Always on the perimeter while your daughters (and OK, sons, but not so much) bounce and hop in leotards they can't stop fidgeting with... and after years of this, my eyes have wandered on to you. For those of you who haven't the pleasure of parenting a gymnast, here's what you'll find in the stands beside you, and yes, I've been many of these people. Let's get into it, shall we?

1) The Drop and Go. My personal hero, and the one I go for when I'm really time-stressed or the kids have been true beasts, the Drop and Go is the parent who barely slows down outside the gym building in their quest for 60 to 90 minutes of uninterrupted Me Time. If only those pesky seat belt laws weren't in place, we could get this down to a rolling toss. For this, we pay up to four figures a year, and their kids are clearly the least-interested and worst-behaved of the bunch, since they can sense the neglect... but hey, it's 60 to 90 minutes away from them. Some days, that's all that keeps you from showing up at the police station or the local news. Can't condemn them too much.

2) Asleep in Public. Can you sleep on a plane? A bus? A subway? While driving? Anywhere, really? Step on down to back-crushing plastic folding chairs, the wide-eyed wonder of little kids that don't have narcoleptic parents, and the knowing sadness that is your little one looking up after finally getting that move she hasn't been able to do, only to see your drooly ass in full sprawl. No, really, I saw it, sweetie! I'm so proud of you for... whatever that was!

3) Coach Killer. Why watch your kid when you can try to tan the neck of the accented staff member on the floor below with your mental powers? Just because they've made a sad little career out of preventing injuries from deluded kids doesn't mean that they know what's right for *your* deluded kid. STARE HARDER. He'll recognize your kid's potential if you just STARE HARDER.

4) PDA Phile. Fresh from their terror-inducing unmanned glide through the parking lot, it's a tablet / smart phone / laptop toting parent that's so enraptured by their glowing electronic rectangle, you can pretty much set their hair on fire, just as long as the WiFi holds out. Special points for doing something that clearly shouldn't take up much time or attention at all (like, say, writing for your crappy blog), or looking at content that's really not appropriate for a facility with little kids. (OK, I haven't been the latter. Yet.)

5) Too Happy. Did you know that this moment, this moment right now, is the only moment you can truly experience in your life? Too Happy does, and their over-enthused applause -- for any kid, really, they are border collies in human form -- for any made move, or energy-drink fueled encouragement for any half-hearted attempt -- can curdle the spine of any human with, well, ordinary cynicism for 21st century America. Making things much worse is the fact that their kids clearly love them, and are probably doing better than yours. (Maybe I've been staring at the wrong people.)

6) Spawn Tastic. In the words of the late great Bill Hicks, these are the folks that haven't stopped their rutting long enough to figure out the whole Food Air Deal, and have decided to fill the stands with a half dozen bored progeny to watch Favored Child go through their routines, rather than pay the bulk rate for babysitting. Needless to say, your gym *loves* these people, since they are seeing a multiplier effect on their revenue. Especially once they sell the less talented kids' organs for cash!

7) Fish On Land, Gasping. The kid is in something really unfortunate (jersey from another sport, pajamas, swimwear, underwear, stained and/or disintegrating), and so is the parent. The parent is in the gym's shop, furiously trying to figure out what outfit will fit their kid, or asking other parents where they bought their kids' stuff. The coach is pointing them towards the skill and injury-free foam pit area, and trying to convince the kid that they are learning the best way to, um, control their body in air, or something. But look quick! Because in a week to a month, they either look like everyone else, or they are gone. The gym is no place for iconoclastic behavior, people.

8) Cyborgs. Do not engage these people -- if, indeed, they are people at all, it's really hard to say -- in any kind of conversation, for fear of the laser-emitting stares. You'll know their kids from the impeccable form, the pristine leotards, and the slight hint of terror in their eyes if they fail to make the next level / team / move in the scientifically determined time allotted. (Oh, and if you find yourself saying the words CRUSH KILL DOMINATE without a trace of irony, you might be these people. Change your oil responsibly.)

9) Team Indulgence. Does your gym have a snack bar? Puling kids looking to stuff their holes with junk food to refuel from that grueling session of falling into foam pits? Weak-kneed parents that had dinner plans that didn't involve plastic toys caving in to the need to bring on Type II Diabetes to the next generation with a quickness? Then you've got Team Indulgence, here to corrupt your own kids into puling behaviors, as well as fix that unfortunate stereotype that gymnasts are in shape. I said I wanted two deserts, not one!

10) The Total Nightmares. The child is in a leotard that costs most than dinner for a family of 6. The household has more cars then people, a thousand square feet per human, a working knowledge of capital gains tax laws and on-call professionals for every possible need. The child has never known a moment of self-doubt or concern that things are going to be fine, just fine. And the parent is sitting there, bemused, supportive, and slumming because of all of their wonderful possessions and opportunities, time with their children is the most valuable time of their day.

(Hey, Shooter Kids? Dad needs you to become her new BFF, so that I can invite her dad over for a friendly game of poker. Either that, or you be so much better than her that she has some kind of psychological breakdown. CRUSH. KILL. DOMINATE.)

Top 10 reasons the Red Sox traded Kevin Youkilis

Also, he's not reacting well to the chemo
10) Could not see a player with old person skills and body doing too well as, well, an old person

9) Really couldn't say no to the trade bounty of unknown pitcher and unknown utility infielder

8) Every time anyone makes a trade with the White Sox, it just works out

7) Will Middlebrooks' is hitting .326, not costing a boatload of money, and doesn't get hurt in a strong breeze

6) Bobby Valentine didn't get along with him, and everyone knows that Valentine is going to be with Boston for a really, really long time (wink)

5) After so many years of blood, sweat and tears poured into the team, Sox management decided it would rather not have all of those nasty fluids all over the floor

4) By trading him, Boston hopes to move beyond the previous unpleasantness with the Yankees

3) Best way to make sure that he finally gets healthy and goes on a Carlton Fisk-esque second career

2) Think he might have eaten chicken or drank beer sometime in 2011

1) It was a slow news days for NESPN

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thunder - Heat Game 5 Top 50 Takeaways

50) Both teams started off cold, because of the enormity of the situation, or something

49) Durant's early foul seemed like a big deal, since he's had so many of them, but really wasn't

48) Heat Fan freaked out over Russell Westbrook getting cleanly fouled, both in real time and on the replay

47) Shane Battier's three and steal got the Heat back on top and flying, which seems to happen a lot

46) Kendrick Perkins showed that you don't have to be on Mario Chalmers' team to scream at him

45) Dwyane Wade picked up two fouls in his first five minutes and stayed in, because Erik Spoelstra was correct to think there was no way he'd actually be in foul trouble later

44) Thabo Sefalosha's second foul was just terrible, in that he had no hope of actually stopping LeBron James three feet from the hoop, and matched the rest of his night

43) No single player in these Finals did more damage to his reputation than James Harden

42) James getting the make and foul on Ibaka happened about three minutes after Scott Brooks should have called a timeout, which is to say, when Brooks always calls his time outs

41) Chalmers turned it over in clear space, because he's actually not all that great at dribbling a basketball

40) When Chris Bosh is blowing past Perkins for dunks, you really have to wonder what purpose having Perkins on the floor serves

39) If Mike Miller doesn't retire after this series, he must really need the money

38) OKC stayed close in the first despite Miami hitting 9 straight shots, which was foreshadowing, or something

37) Norris Cole really doesn't have any idea that he's not great

36) The second Durant foul is like dozens of other calls in this series, where the offensive player was penalized for being athletic

35) James hit Harden on the face, which Harden embellished, but still, um, a huge man hit him in the face to gain space

34) Harden's defense on James at this point in the series was mostly theoretical

33) I have no idea why Brooks kept putting Perkins on the floor, and you don't either

32) Wade's third foul, where he dove for a man's ankles like a dirty pulling guard, was unexpected for him at home

31) When the Heat are hitting threes and generating turnovers, basketball becomes a wilding and suspense ends in a real big hurry

30) You kind of knew it wasn't the Thunder's game, or series, from all of the rattle rattle rattle rattle out shots when the game was close

29) Durant's opening third quarter three was a terrible possession and great result, and gave the illusion of competitiveness

28) The Chalmers three with 10:10 ended a 5-point sequence that went Miami's way, like so many others

27) The Battier three with 9:32 left in the third was the official sign that these guys were not ever going to miss enough to make it a game again

26) While he had no chance of really earning it, Battier's third three, with 7 minutes left in the third after 20 seconds of great OKC defense, was MVPish

25) This is the Heat team that everyone feared -- guys hitting a limitless number of wide-open threes

24) One hour after the game ended, Westbrook was still out there, missing shots

23) The flagrant blocking call on Fisher is a bad call, even by the standards of this series

22) Independent of rooting interest, it's kind of sad to watch the season end in a blowout, especially when every other game was down to the wire

21) Kudos to LeBron to smack Chalmers down when things got out of hand in the third

20) The Thunder hit back to back threes to start the fourth and just traded baskets, due to Mike Miller

19) When Durant tries to be stubborn and take over on offense, turnovers ensue, which is why he's never going to shoot enough to satisfy people

18) Actually, ESPN, the final 12 minutes of game play couldn't go quickly enough for everyone but Heat Fan

17) Even up 20+ points and in borderline coronation time, the Heat are still prone to riding the refs

16) James' triple-double conversion, where he wrestled the ball away from Wade and got two offensive boards before the end-one, should have been the last moment when a starter played in this game

15) Harden made some threes late to help disguise the depths of his play in this series

14) I'm really hoping that the Heat let this go to their heads

13) Cole Aldrich scored, and when that happens, you know you didn't get your full 48 minutes worth of hoop

12) Why the Heat starters were on the floor as late as they were, we'll never know

11) The Thunder bench made the final score look a little bit like a basketball game

10) You really have to feel good that Eddy Curry is finally going to get a ring

9) While it would be nice to think the Thunder will be back, it's not exactly certain, given how difficult their conference is

8) Give Miami Fan credit, in that they stayed for the whole game this time

7) ESPN botched the post-game awards, surprising both people in America who still thought well of them

6) LeBron was so happy by the end of this game, he even showed America his real hairline

5) We now enter the long dark summer of games that don't really matter that much, the tyranny of baseball, and way too much premature fantasy football

4) As good as James was in this series, the Heat won because of the supporting cast played out of their minds

3) I still think that if this series had gone back to Oklahoma City, the Heat could have blown it

2) It's hard to see how the Heat are going to be a true dynasty when they are this thin, old and injured, but it's not as if others won't come here to hunt rings

1) Not withstanding the crappy ending, this was the best playoff season in recent memory

Thursday, June 21, 2012

And Then They Totally Ruined It By Talking, Or Why NBA Fans Pule So Much About The Refs

Pule Pule Pule Pule
I don't know whether NBA officiating is worse than any other officiating, but I do know that NBA fans complain about officiating more than anyone else. - Tracer Bullet

As always, the Bullet makes me think, which is why I hate him so very, very much... but he's absolutely on the mark. I have no real horse in the NBA Finals, though I'm rooting for the Thunder to redeem my pick and keep Miami Fan down; if and when the Heat complete the trick, it won't cause me more than a half minute of meh. So why have I been so mortified by the officiating?

It goes beyond the unfairness shown for Miami, or the sense that the refs are going to cost us 1 or 2 more games of what really could have been one of the most entertaining series in recent history. The Heat have been more poised in the late going, they've gotten to more loose balls, and they've handled things when it mattered. The Thunder may be falling into that have to lose before you can win trap. Miami is up 3-1, deserves to be up 3-1, and puling about the refs is hack. I certainly couldn't do the job any better than the refs, and I doubt I could do it well enough to ref a YMCA game. So why am I giving in to the temptation to cry foul about the fouls?

It goes to the nature of the game itself. Basketball fans, the true ones that watch even when their laundry isn't involved (note that the highest local ratings for this series outside of OK and FL are Cleveland, Memphis, New Orleans and San Antonio), don't want to see free throws. We also don't really want to see block/charges, defensive three second violations, intentionally fouling a weak free throw shooter, the rote "one to give" foul at the end of a quarter... or, well, anything that stops the action. Because basketball at its best is up and down, back and forth, not stopping, not slowing, not taking quasi rest breaks or dribbling out time in an isolation package.

The best basketball games that I saw this spring did not involve my Sixers, even when they were putting the Celtics to the brink, or even when they broke through against Chicago. As fun as those games were, and as enjoyable and unexpected as 13 playoff games from an 8 seed can be, they just don't compare to the grace and speed of the Spurs, Nuggets, Clippers and Thunder, don't hold a candle on the aesthetic joy in movement shown by teams with deadly point guards at the top of their game, athletic finishing big men, and up-tempo offenses that win by doing more than taking more shots than the opponent.

This is how different hoop is. The best Eagles wins of my lifetime include the breakthrough stomp job they gave the Cowboys in 1980 to go to the Super Bowl. Or maybe the Michael Vick Explosion Game against Washington on MNF a few years ago, when the road team more or less made Daniel Snyder set fire to Donovan McNabb's extension before the ink was dry. Maybe it was the Cowboy elimination game when Brian Dawkins ended Marion Barber's period of usefulness, or even the Rodney Peete out of the blue scoreathon playoff game against Detroit. I'll also take the MNF House of Pain game against the run and shoot Oilers, when Buddy Ryan's defense ended the careers of so many slot WRs, or even last year's Giants game, when a reeling squad made the eventual Super Bowl winners look downright pitiful. That's because in football, watching your favorite team utterly annihilate a hated opponent is better than anything; having the ability to gloat during the game is the lock low shove and love moment for football fans. The squeak it out contest where a single snap decides everything may be memorable, but the memory will be more of relief than triumph.

Not the case with hoop. What you want to see there is your team come back from a big hole to win at the buzzer, or overcome referee hijinks to have your non-star bury the last shot, or your shot-blocker end the threat with an emphatic hammer job, or the nerves of steel foul shots going in to clinch and close. When your team just opens up a lead and runs away with it, it's too easy, goes against the everyone makes a run ethos, and ends your evening with pointless bench guys running around as you wonder when it's OK to leave. That's no fun, not art, and not memorable... and hoop fans are like fight fans. We want memories, maybe even more than wins.

This is why people think the Spurs are boring, even though they are not. This is why no one watched the Pistons' recent championships, or why Celtics-Lakers isn't the ratings extravaganza that it should be with two Top 5 front-running markets in position. And this is why these ratings are the highest that they've been in a decade.

So, refs? Stop getting in the way of things. Start making a mess of no-calls on Shane Battier's flow-destroying defense game. Continue to ignore James Harden and Chris Bosh as they theatrically fall for bailouts. Make emphatic calls for out of bounds possessions that avoid the need for emasculating video reviews, even if they are wrong. And push, push, push the pace so that the world's best athletes can give us something to remember, even if it's not nearly enough of it.

The only way to keep people from bitching about the officiating is to make them talk, first, about how amazing the game was. No matter who won.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Top Ten Reasons Why Kevin Garnett Is Thinking About Retirement

10) Since he skipped college and has played in a bunch of playoff games, he's actually 73 years old

9) Keeps getting called for fouls he totally did not commit, and his conscience just can not abide it

8) These young'uns keep failing to show him the proper deference and respect when he elbows them in the groin

7) If you had to hang out with, and defend the action of, Rajon Rondo, you'd think about quitting too

6) If he doesn't think really hard and make the Celtics really worried about this, the Magic Money Fairy won't appear

5) Somehow isn't seeing how a playoff run next year at age 37 will go much better than the playoff run this year at age 36

4) Has already achieved everything he's set out to in the game, in that he's made everyone who doesn't root for the Celtics forget about his game in disgust over his personality

3) It's a fairly esoteric form of protest over Paul Pierce's foul troubles in the playoffs

2) Wants to get to the next chapter in his life, where he teaches disadvantaged kids how to trash talk and take cheap shots

1) Really wants to go out on middle

Thunder - Heat Game Four Top 50 Takeaways

Chris Bosh Can Swallow Anything
50) Scott Brooks moved Kevin Durant off LeBron James at the start of the game, because doing the obvious thing is what counts as great strategy in Game Four

49) Russell Westbrook started off hot, which meant the Thunder took an early lead for once

48) OKC went up 13-3 in the first four minutes, which meant that Heat Fan started checking their cell phones and pocket mirrors

47) So long as Serge Ibaka is getting a pass for being a new speaker of English, he really should let loose more

46) Ibaka's early foul trouble was more than a little predictable, given the pre-game quote

45) Westbrook missing at the rim was a 4-point play and led to Heat open court hi jinks, which is to say, the spark for the inevitable comeback from the early hole

44) I'm not sure that Kendrick Perkins can score 20 points in a game, no matter who guards him

43) The Heat got away with about a half dozen first quarter fouls before Mario Chalmers' hooking action on Durant got a whistle

42) When Dwyane Wade gets blocked at the rim by Nick Collison, it means that The Old Wade really isn't coming back

41) For people who aren't familiar with games when people run up and down the court quickly (i.e., Eastern Conference fans), this is actually how basketball should be played

40) Westbrook started posing after jumpers to the point where you wondered if he was going to get a cheap technical or anger the Karma Gods

39) OKC took their biggest lead of the series, mostly by having Westbrook play like he's capable of playing

38) Without Norris Cole, the Heat are down a lot at the half

37) Either of these teams can go on a 10-0 run before you can blink

36) Wade's three pointer to tie it, followed by the Durant make, Ibaka block and Harden three was the kind of seismic shift that this series just keeps delivering

37) Wade went down on his little pet leading leg play, then recovered like a soccer player

36) The pace and level of play here was as good as hyped, which is saying something

35) Chris Bosh really does have a future as a wrestling heel, given how much he celebrates hustle plays

34) Westbrook's dunk finish off the Thabo Sefalosha miss showed James forgetting his defensive responsibilities and avoiding a poster

33) It's hard to estimate just how valuable Battier has been for Miami this series, or just how much physical plays he's getting away with

32) When Chalmers is hot, the Heat are a pretty frightening beast

31) Durant's make with 4:10 left in the third on the baseline was Erving-esque, only Durant stays in the air longer

30) Derek Fisher knocked James over like he didn't outweigh him by 100 pounds

29) Westbrook and the Thunder really struggle with physical defense and ridiculously bad officiating

28) If Brooks lets Harden guard James again in this series, he should be placed in a small room with no sharp objects

27) Durant's first rebound came with 11:30 left in the game, which is one of those hidden problems that no one is going to bring up

26) OKC can only hope this series goes long enough for the real Harden to show up, or that the real Harden isn't permanently destroyed, a la Nick Anderson

24) Harden's miss after steal in the open court was his night in microcosm, cost the Thunder a lead, and changed everything

23) The subsequent Chalmers three had that "Of Course" feel to it

22) The Heat are one game away from a championship stained by questionable officiating, which is to say, just like their other championship

21) Wade's straight on three was a terrible possession and a huge result, which is why people mythologize basketball players

20) Westbrook's first free throw came in the 41st minute of this game, and he had three all night, which staggers the imagination

19) Westbrook scored 13 in a row to force a tie in a game that had no business being tied

18) James' cramp will be, by the time Game Five starts, the focus of a one-hour ESPN documentary

17) OKC actually took a lead after James' injury, just to make sure that we had maximum drama

16) If James is subject to cramps, the fact that the Thunder have not sent waves of bench players out to play full-court is one more flaming bag of turds to put on Brooks' doorstep

15) While everyone will want to fellate the Heat for winning without full LeBron, they looked like ass until he limped back on and made the go-ahead three

14) Westbrook's amazing game stopped with 4 minutes left, and then we got Bad Russ again

13) The Thunder did not target a limping James on defense, for some reason that none can fathom

12) If Kevin Durant goes on a three-state killing spree after this series ends, painting his victims in referee stripes before disemboweling them, I'd understand it

11) Wade's make to push the lead to 5 was a play where Westbrook fell asleep on him, and not in the top 5 of bad RW plays late

10) Harden's lack of interest in taking a wide-open shot late is the kind of thing that makes you wonder about a lot more than his shot

9) The Thunder are supposed to have the better and deeper bigs, but you'd never know from their lack of big rebounds late

8) Wade's block on Thabo Sefalosha in the corner, and subsequent save, is his signature play of the game

7) Bosh's flop for Durant's foul with 1:24 left is the kind of thing that a grown man should be ashamed of

6) The idea that we're not going to have a long series because of Mario Chalmers boggles the mind

5) Westbrook's unnecessary foul on Chalmers with 13.8 left could only be called Webber-esque

4) This has been an unforgettable series of pace, athleticism, momentum swings and mental breakdowns

3) The Heat shot well from the arc without a big night from Battier, which hasn't happened in a while

2) Teams that are down 3-1 in the NBA Finals are 0-30, but if this somehow gets back to OKC, you're going to have to wonder

1) If these two teams play against each other for the next 5 to 10 years on this stage, I'll be kind of OK with that

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Top 10 takeaways from Freddy Galvis' 50-game PED suspension

10) He must be innocent, since he was hitting all of .226 before getting suspended

9) This easily qualifies as among the top 500 most disappointing things to happen to Phillies Fan this year

8) Ruben Amaro Jr. says that he team totally supports the program and the decision, probably because Galvis kind of sucks

7) It's a known fact that steroid use can greatly enhance your defensive prowess

6) Venezuela will never recover from the shame, oh the shame, of a pretty anonymous hurt player testing for PEDs

5) Galvis tested positive for a metabolite of Clostebol, which at least means that unlike Manny Ramirez, hes's not pregnant

4) He said that he wants to return as soon as possible to help the Phillies win the World Series, so one of the side effects must be delusions

3) Galvis will serve his suspension while on the disabled list, so he's really going to learn a lot from this

2) He says he's extremely disappointed at what has transpired this year, which means he has actully been watching the Phillies this year

1) The Phillies say that they believe in Galvis and think he has a great future, but this is tempered by the fact that they were dumb enough to give him a starting job with his can't hit enough to keep a job while on PEDs

Actually, I'm Kind Of OK With My Taxes Going To Prosecute Roger Clemens

Walk, Perp, Walk
So Roger Clemens was exonerated today in every court but the one of public opinion, which means that we're all supposed to forget about the over- whelmingly likely probability that he abused performance enhancing drugs to achieve what he did in the field of play.

Which led, of course, to the knee-jerk contrarian viewpoint of how awful it is, how much money has been wasted, on a guy who cheated while throwing a ball. When there are so many more and bigger problems we could be solving with our tax dollars, not the least of which is the fact that there are taxes and those dollars could have stayed with us, dammit.

Well, kids, I'm here to be the bad guy, the counter-cynic, the black fly in the Rocket's chardonnay. Because, well, there are literally *THOUSANDS* of things that governments do that I find more distasteful than trying, and failing, to put this dirtbag behind bars for the (alleged) lying, malfeasance, and general coarsening of the culture.

Right now, as I type this, there are honorable Americans in harm's way in Afghanistan. My tax dollars are paying for that. I'd much rather that they didn't.

Right now, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts and Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy sleep in relative luxury from their taxpayer paid salary, having ruled that corporations are citizens and that our campaigns just weren't benefiting from enough fat cat donations. Instead of, oh, I don't know, slowly drowning in a supervillain-style death trap where coins slowly fill an enclosed space, burying them alive. Yeah, that'd work.

My tax dollars pay for nuclear weapons, oil company subsidies, a ruinous agricultural policy, a thriving penal system. Guantanamo Bay and predator drones. A military industrial complex that ensures that we pay too much for arms that we'll feel compelled to use, since they are the only real vestige of superpower strength we have left. Clean coal and highways over mass transit and bridges to nowhere and so on, and so on, and so on.

And it has always been this way, and will always be this way. The only difference between public wasteful spending and private wasteful spending is that we actually have a reasonable chance to hear about the former. (You pay for the latter, too. In the marketplace, especially where companies have managed to thwart the free-market by, well, a past ability to succeed in the free market. But I digress.)

So, we've spent a lot of money trying to nail a liar who made an ungodly amount of money in stadiums that frequently were paid for by the public? In a culturally relevant industry that helps to frame the public health mores of children?


We didn't get him arrested?

Oh well.

We at least caused him some serious anxiety, right? Made his eventual Hall of Fame walk look all kinds of perpy? Gave everyone a good look into the dregs and lowlifes he surrounds himself with, dragged his legacy and numbers through a pig sty or six? Set up his future life to be a sort of walking shamble through lower and lower-rent card shows and appearances, until he finally slips up in a thoroughly predictable OJ In Vegas situation that will make whatever Blogfrica looks like in 2025 squee with delight?

Yeah. Our tax dollars, yours and mine, did that.

Still feel so bad about the purchase?

FTT Off-Topic: Father's Day and Father's Doom

As always with FTT O-T, it's a big wide Internet and this isn't going to be entirely about sports. Scrolll, bail, just don't pule. Oh, and click on the ads and order a T-shirt on your way out.

Yesterday was Father's Day, a holiday that held nothing but a gritted jaw and hollow laugh for me for the first 30 years of my life, but has rebounded quite nicely in the last 12. The eldest got me an adorable gift of four oversized poker chip sofa pillows, which are making the Man Cave look even better, as if such a thing were possible. The youngest got me a new holster for my cell phone, because she's at the age where seeing her gifts used every day makes her very happy. We took a walk as a family, went to the dog park, I read to them at bedtime, and this wasn't all that extraordinary of a day. I do well with fatherhood; I take the job seriously and it keeps me grounded.

Today, I got to experience the other side of it: the keening, impossibly helpless side.

The eldest is a gymnast, and loves it. Unfortunately, she also came to it relatively late in life (age 10), but since she's a Shetland Human like myself, this really isn't that big of a problem... or, you would think such things. Now that she's 12, she's done this long enough to reach a certain standing, and she's in exceptional physical shape; the kid's got washboard abs and is all kinds of wiry. I'm far from an impartial eye, of course, but in every class she's been in for the last 3+ months, the gym we've been taking her to has had her demonstrating the exercises to the less experienced girls. They've also been talking about promoting her, and when she tried out for the rec league team 9 days ago, she looked a lot better than most of the other kids. Again, I'm not impartial, but you can tell when a kid is in control of her body and can move with speed, and when they can not.

The tryout results were supposed to be told to us in 7 days; instead, they were told in 9. She wasn't selected. We got a form letter email rejection.

The semester is ending, and she got her report card... that more or less says the same thing that it's said for the past two periods. With a five word comment. "Keep up the good work!" No promotion. Keep doing the same thing you've been doing for the last 4 months. Probably because you are 12, and nothing more.

No point about what needs to get better; no clue on what needs to happen for her to progress, no sense that her participation has been valued at all, beyond the money we can pour into the place to keep her running in sand.

Now, the eldest is sensible: she has no dreams of Olympic glory, no hissy fit of having to be on the team, no drama of quitting the sport because of a series of setbacks. This is who she is and what she does, and I suspect she'd be happy teaching low-level work to kids for decades, in that her current professional dreams are in the Teacher phase. (So much that she's working out a Summer School situation for her younger sister and a neighbor kid. It's nine kinds of adorable, really.)

But she's pretty good at knowing when she's being jerked around. Which, of course, happens to everyone who plays sports, whether it happens at 12 or 16 or 19 or 25 or 32 or 41.

Eventually, someone will tell you that your services are not required or desired, and that what you dreamed of doing isn't going to happen. That's part of the reason why we teach kids how to play sports, after all; it teaches them many lessons, not the least of which is living with disappointment.

And the lesson for Dad?

That the power he used to have to fix problems and make things better... is finite.

Very, very finite.

And a little more today.

Sorry, kiddo. I can't make people who are jerking you around stop jerking you around. I can't make them be straight with you about what happens next, or if you've hit your ceiling in your sport, or if you are of more use to them as the camp body or demo model to the up and comers.

But how about this...

Want to come check out some other gyms?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bob Costas Finally Gets The Respect He Deserves

Also, finally, golf becomes watchable. Just watch.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Thunder - Heat Game Three Top 40 Takeaways

40) The refs decided to not have a million ticky-tacky fouls in the first quarter, which was nice

39) Chris Bosh continues to be competent, which is all kinds of good news for the Heat

38) The Heat's ball movement was a lot better at home, and so was their hustle

37) Neither team could make a three pointer in the first quarter, which is why the score stayed low, despite both teams shooting well

36) OKC took a lead in this game, which meant they were already ahead of Game 2

35) Scott Brooks took a technical for complaining about a call that was reversed, which was then missed, proving Rasheed Wallace's 'Ball Don't Lie' dictate

34) Durant hit a jumper over Wade, then told him he was too small, which sounds pretty personal to me, really

33) Miami led through much of this game, despite not being able to make anything outside of the paint, which is a little hard to imagine, really

32) Wade's jumper with 8 minutes left in the second missed by enough to get him off the court at your local Y

31) LeBron James intends to win this series strictly with his post game

30) With the game tied at 31, Mario Chalmers made a steal in transition to set up a James to Wade layup, which was one of those 4-point plays that cause an immediate timeout

29) Westbrook has clearly watched some Rajon Rondo highlights against the Heat

28) James Harden was called for an and-one foul on Wade on a play where he committed little, if any, act of defense

27) Wade can't just fall down in transition for an automatic trip to the line anymore

26) It's news to everyone who watches just the Finals that Shane Battier is the best three point shooter in the NBA

25) Derek Fisher's 4-point play with Durant and Westbrook on the bench was an immense play

24) If you love watching guys get fouled while shooting corner threes, this was the game for you

23) Since the series can only go for four more games, that's how many more times we can hear that Jeff Van Gundy coached Battier in Houston

22) Durant doesn't usually get in foul trouble, which is news to anyone who only watches the Finals

21) In other news that Finals-only viewers will consider news, the Thunder are a good free-throw shooting team

20) Scott Brooks looked at his ten-point third quarter lead and decided that Durant being on the bench was also a good time to put Westbrook down

19) In other news, Serge Ibaka isn't allowed on the court in the fourth quarter, because James encountering a shot blocker late is just wrong, I guess

18) You'd think that a basketball team in the NBA Finals would be able to hit a jump shot from time to time, but that's really not the Heat's game

17) Udonis Haslem blocked Fisher, and then his head

16) Miami Fan knows how to chant about refs, too

15) Harden to Durant for the dunk with nine minutes left was just about the best execution you could have of that play

14) Chalmers' first basket of the day clearly should not have been allowed, since it involved an illegal out of bounds save from James

13) If the Thunder had hit free throws worth a damn, they would have had a reasonable lead in the fourth

12) Both of these teams are bringing the wood on shot blocking

11) Miami's fan base seems much more worried in close games than OKC's

10) Wade gets more separation from his leading leg than anyone outside of Kobe Bryant

9) The Heat were unconscious from the line, which is, once again, not how things went during the meaningless regular season

8) Durant's fifth foul came after a terrible offensive possession, was a clear foul on his part, and makes you wonder if, once again, the Thunder are too young

7) Miami likes to run clock a long time before it makes sense to run clock

6) If Miami had blown this game in the fourth, you would have heard a lot more about their huge number of turnovers in the fourth

7) James early in the clock is so much better than James late in the clock

6) Sefalosha's one-man press on Wade to get the steal and layup was a clinic

5) James' pass to Bosh with 80 seconds left was great, got the Heat two more FT points, and will get him no credit

4) Harden's foul was a weak flop and a worse call, and just bad all over

3) Much of this series has been great hoop, but with all of the turnovers in the fourth quarter tonight, this game didn't quite qualify

2) It doesn't really tell the story, but the Heat are now 18-2 when Joey Crawford is the ref

1) Since OKC failed to win this game and looked bad late, we will now enter a 45-hour period of questioning everything about them as players, a team, and men

The Poker Diaries: It's Time To Pay The Price

Economics being what they are, my playing has gone down to just the home game while a bathroom renovation happens, and so be it; I have daughters, so it's not as if there needs to be extra cash for gambling ventures into my local house of horrors, especially when it's not NFL season and I can't throw some stupid money around on prop bets. So Friday night had 17 players for the tournament, a full table for the post-break cash game, and action until 4am. In other words, a pretty normal night for us.

The tournament went relatively well. I flopped a straight from an unraised big blind, then snap-called the all-in from a short stack with an over pair; helpful. Next came my pocket kings getting cracked against A-J where the turn gave him trip jacks; not so good. Also not good was folding an unraised pot when I misread the chips on the board, which inevitably became a full house after the final three community cards hit my 8-3 off suit right between the eyes. Hard thing to shake off, but I grinded away to come back from that, eventually returning the favor when my A-K had the same guy outkicked, but in the last hand before the final, I tried to buy a pot from a shorter stack who had the nuts, giving away half of my chips in the process. The final table was a bad place to go card-dead, and I went out two from the bubble, but reasonably pleased with my play, especially given how many opportunities I had to go on tilt.

The cash game? Gahhh. Let's just say that Second Best, the worst hand in poker, kept coming to visit, with the results that you can see in the song at the close. It was not all bad luck; there was also my full A Game of suck going on, with bad calls following good folds, rebuying rather than just getting on with my cleaning job, playing with emotion rather than logic, broadcasting tells so badly that it might have seemed like Hollywood work. and not taking the beat with as much grace as I should.

Some days at the table, your play doesn't have that much to do with your take; good play betrayed by bad luck makes the world go around, and bad play rewarded is the happier story. This game, for me at the cash table, was the story you never hear, because it's the least rewarding to the ego, and doesn't set you up with any kind of story for the next game.

I played like ass, and paid the price. So play me out.

The Year Of Phillies Fan Correction

In my Twitter feed are various Phillies fans, and I'll be blunt about this: they are not doing the rest of you any kind of favor. As I write this, the NL East Dynasty In Decline is 31-36, 9 games out of the East and 5 games out of the wild card (and yes, it truly is 5, since Atlanta and San Francisco are tied for that), and more likely to sell at the trading decline than buy.

How they got here is fairly easy to diagnose: they treated their aging personnel as special and magical creatures that would never decline or get hurt, imported proven guys only, and treated their remaining homegrown talent (i.e., Domonic Brown) like they were nuisance animals crossing a highway. There have been injuries, but when everyone of note on the roster is past 30, there are going to be injuries. Lots of them.

The Phillies, of course, probably knew this day was coming, but they held in and hit on 17, because breaking the dynasty is always hard, rebuilding in front of 4 million paying customers is borderline impossible, and last year's team was a hit or two away from beating the eventual World Series champion in the first round. The money was spent on Jonathan Papelbon, which was roundly pilloried by the cognoscenti, but in the year of the Exploding Closer, I suppose we can't kill them too much for this. Gentleman Jim Thome was also reacquired to cover for the first half of the year without Ryan Howard, Freddy Galvis was promoted to do the same for Chase Utley, and that was, well, that.

The fact that it hasn't worked shouldn't be too surprising; the NL East has talent all over, and while most teams looked too flawed (Washington was too young, Miami too thin, Atlanta too haunted and New York too Ponzied), the flaw for Big Red turns out to be the most fatal: Too Old. Carlos Ruiz is the only hitter having a year, and while he's been the best catcher in baseball, you aren't making the playoffs purely on a catcher being on pace to hit 20 HRs and 85 RBIs with a .400+ OBA, especially when the one-time front-line shortstop (Jimmy Rollins) is on pace for 10 HRs and a sub-.700 OPS. Galvis didn't hit before he got hurt, John Mayberry Jr. gave back all of 2011's gains, Shane Victorino stopped being an outlier MVP candidate, and so on, and so on.

But the idea that the offense would be in trouble was no real surprise to anyone; it was supposed to tread water until Howard and Utley got back, and they've probably been better than expected, especially when you give nearly regular at-bats to Juan Pierre. (Woof.) The bigger issue is the pitching. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels need to be historic for this team to go places, and this year, they've been only ordinary. It's what happens with pitching, especially when two of those guys are in their mid-30s, and the napalm efforts of Kyle Kendrick, Joe Blanton and every reliever not named Papelbon or Antonio Bastardo means that the 4/5 starters and extra inning games are all going the other way.

Maybe they pull it together soon, maybe the two returning starters and the eventual return from injury by Halladay could drive a big push, but they've just lost too many of Those Kinds of Games to inspire any kind of confidence that they can do it again. Besides, last place in the division is last place in the division; jumping past all of these teams just isn't going to happen, which is what's keeping me thinking happy thoughts about Red Sox Elimination Day coming early this year.

Now, you might think that one of MLB's most losing franchises would have enough old-school fans to be able to deal with a down year, and understand that this is all that this is. The Phillies are a pure MLB+ market, the only team in a market that could probably support two with relative ease (seriously, imagine how the AL East might look with the Philadelphia R'As instead of Tampa), the beloved new-ish park and a division filled with teams with, well, none of these advantages. In the long term, they should compete every year, assuming they can restock the farm system, get away from the dead wood contracts, and make some better moves.

Phillies Fan, of course, is treating the year with something approaching breakdown, in between sticking pins into Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg voodoo dolls. (Seriously, people, calm down. They'll be signing free agent American League contracts before you know it.) It's just a bad year. They happen.

But not for anyone who has only rooted for the team in this century.

So, young'uns? Come close. Listen up. I'm old and such, can't speak very loudly.

Steve Jeltz. Rich Schu. Charlie Hayes. Jeff Stone. Mickey Morandini. Tommy Hume. Nino Espinosa. Glenn Wilson. Kevin Stocker. Rico Brogna. Gregg Jeffries. Juan Bell. Kyle Abbott. Andy Ashby. Don Carmen. Chris James.

Do I need to go on?

No, I don't think so.

Baseball is not, even for a plus market, an automatic win slot machine. Eras end, and when they do, it's rarely pretty. And real fans are not made just in playoff runs, or glory, or full stadiums and roaring crowds. The least fun team to root for is the team that's expected to be good but isn't, and the most fun team is the team that comes out of nowhere to contend. There's a reason why guys that are my age like the 1993 team nearly as much as they do the 2008 WFCs, and it's been nine years since you've watched a sub.500 team. There aren't more than a handful of fan bases that have had it better than you in a long time, and this has been, by far, the best era in the laundry's history.

So, the next time you want to tear Joe Savery a new one, take a breath instead. Cut Victorino a break or six; he's earned them. Take in the small and simple joy that is Thome, sort of the rich man's Matt Stairs, or how there's never been a better named lefty reliever than Bastardo. Trust that Charlie Manuel will get some offense out of someone eventually, or how Brown might eventually get a few ABs and do something with them. Delude yourself with the fools' gold wild-card race, or get excited by the talent that comes their way if they sell off a name. (The guy I'd move is Cliff Lee, by the way. Not like he's not used to it, or that there won't be suitors in big markets that have seen him do good things in their league before.)

And earn your good times, rather than cutting and puling and running your way through them. Besides, actual games of consequence with any other Philadelphia pro sports team are 12 weeks away. So what else are you going to do with your time?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Heat - Thunder Game Two Top 40 Takeaways

40) OKC plays Star Wars music for the Heat, because LeBron James' hairline is so Darth-esque

39) The Heat started Chris Bosh at center, just to try to tempt Kendrick Perkins into committing acts of offense

38) The Thunder really should remove those lids that they keep on the rim at the start of the game

37) Bosh being on the floor for the big early start made every armchair pundit think they were smarter than Spoelstra, and who am I to argue with them

36) Perkins gives back a lot of his rebounding edge when he's turning it over

35) Serge Ibaka might be the only guy in the NBA who can guard Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in transition, since he can block anyone at any time

34)Wade actually had some value in the first quarter, so I'm thinking he had a knee drained

33) The Heat started 16-2 before finally going to James Harden, which was kind of ridiculous

32) Durant picking up his second foul with his team down 14 after 8 minutes was all kinds of Prophetic Trouble

31) Thabo Sefalosha is a great defender, but when James is getting it in deep post position, not so much

30) With the big early lead, Spoelstra was able to gives Norris Cole and James Jones minutes, which might have something in common with his team not sucking on oxygen tanks late

29) When OKC is down 13, their crowd made it sound like they were up 20

28) Westbrook's second foul occurred because, once again, Sefalosha can't dunk and RW can't think

27) Without Harden, OKC would have been down 27-5 after the first quarter

26) The Thunder bench are a major reason why this was a game

25) Westbrook's first-half jumpers were the single biggest reason for his team's deficit, though it's not as if Durant was lighting it up either

24) The next call that Mario Chalmers gets will be his first

23) The Heat kept the lead with defense, which is something they didn't do in Game One

22) Bosh was responsible for an unconscionable number of extra possessions in the first half

21) For as good as the Heat played in the first half, and as bad as Westbrook and Durant shot... it was still just a 12-point game

20) Battier has given the Heat more in these first two games than he did in the first two series

19) It was good that the refs started blowing the whistle on everything in the third quarter, since the game was getting too watchable

18) OKC might want to reconsider this leave Battier wide open at the arc strategy

17) Tonight saw the return of the Perkins who stares at people when they score, last seen in Game 2 of the Spurs series

16) Durant's fourth and fifth fouls were just, well, dumb

15) OKC really couldn't afford to miss free throws in trying to come back from the deficit, and yet, still did

14) The Heat still haven't fixed their end of quarter offense

13) One of these days, we need to see a charge taking competition between Battier and Nick Collison

12) Wade's answer with 11 minutes left was just another counterpunch in a game filled with them

11) Thunder Fan doesn't use profanity even when they hate the refs, because that makes Baby Jebus cry, or something

10) Durant's dunk with 8:20 left and 5 fouls was joyous defiance and ten kinds of great

9) Harden goes down far too often to draw a charge call on James, probably ever

8) You don't win fourth quarters against Durant, you survive them

7) Battier's bank shot was absolutely immense, and the Durant follow corner three was why the NBA, at its best, is my favorite sport to watch

6) James went ten of ten tonight from the line, which is usually 2 or 3 points the Heat don't have

5) Battier's block call with 3:20 left only came after Durant's shot missed for conspiracy theory lovers

4) Chalmers' steal on Westbrook was the best hustle play of his life

3) Westbrook with the follow slam in transition is a play that no other point guard in the Association makes, especially after playing his minutes

2) I'd go chapter and verse on the final minute of play, but it's more worthy of a novel than a bullet point

1) The James no-call on the Durant baseline shot to tie was a terrible, conspiracy-worthy no-call, but as the Heat never trailed tonight and were the better team, really not worth the puling it will receive

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Seattle, I'm Very Sorry, But You Are Not Game

I have friends who ask, since they know that I'm their Way Too Into The NBA Guy, if it's OK to root for the Thunder, given the circumstances of their birth.

Let's take this away from the ownership right away. The vast majority of NBA owners are, as we learned during the lockout, complete and utter scumbags, dirtballs, blackmail artists and thieves. The lockout just showed all of that in broad relief; nothing that has happened since then should change anyone's mind about that. I feel more warm and cuddly to the average casino owner than I do a pro sports team. They are the evil that must be endured to get to Game, and the less time we spend thinking about them, or treating them with anything more than contempt, the better. So Clay Bennett is a pestilence, but no more than Donald Sterling or Mark Cuban or Ted Dolan or Michael Jordan or Paul Allen or Jerry Krause or Enough Already. Just accept that if you are rooting for a team for its owner, and you are not related or working for said pussbag, you are an idiot. Moving on.

To the zip code. Oklahoma, also known as Red State AmeriKKKa, may be the state I am least likely to live in before I move on to the next plane. I honestly suspect that there are countries, plural, where I do not speak the dominant language, that I would rather live in than Oklahoma. I get that they suffered huge from the actions of home-grown terrorism, but that doesn't wash away a lifetime of Avoid. The Sooner State gives us college football (miss), Jim Imhofe, the Senator From Oil that seems personally offended at the idea that people who believe that climate change exists and might be a problem we want to address aren't being rounded up and put in camps (double miss), and about as much social tolerance as the more cosmopolitan parts of Afghanistan.

I could go on about what's wrong with the place, but let's just cut to the chase and say this: if you had a job offer that would require relocation to the area, how much more would they have to pay you to take the gig? I'm thinking... 300% of my current number. Or enough so that I could do many, many things to help forget where I now lived.

I have other friends who live in Seattle. I've also spent a few weeks there on several occasions, and I have to tell you, it's in my top ten of places where I could easily and happily live. (The list, in no particular order: New York, the Bay Area, Austin, Vancouver, Portland, Philly, where I am right now, London, and Wellington, NZ.)

I love Pike's Place, the Needle, Mount Ranier, Copper River salmon, the views, the golf (surprisingly good and cheap), the nightlife, the easy access to Asia, and so on, and so on. I went to college at Syracuse. I can handle rain and gray skies, because when they part, you are living in paradise. And know it, and have earned it, and appreciate it. If you won a trip to OKC, you'd wonder why; if you won a trip to Seattle, you'd be at the airport.

I've rooted for the Sonics in the past. The Gary Payton / Shawn Kemp teams may be the best non-Bulls team of the '90s, and before that, I got a ton of cheap roto numbers out of Xavier McDaniel and Dale Ellis. As a kid, I had more than a little love for the Seahawks of Jim Zorn, Dave Krieg, Original Curt Warner, Logan Easley (beastly safety, huge hitter), and Steve Largent in his pre-Congress days. As the non-Raider team in the AFC West, it wasn't hard to root for them, and even their goofy uniforms were fun. The Mariners were never really that much of a favorite for me, since I didn't pay much attention to them before being an A's fan, but Safeco is one of those places I'd really like to see a game. It's a great place, and doesn't feel like any other part of the U.S.; in an increasingly homogenized and franchised land where the Internet and mass communication is killing regional differences, that's a compliment.

You might notice some by now, in paragraph eight: nothing that I've written so far has anything to do with what has happened in the NBA Finals so far, or what will happen next. That's because Seattle has, well, nothing to do with these things.

Seattle Fan, what happened to your town was awful, is awful, and will be awful for a very, very long time. If you go to bed every night plotting David Stern's death, if you perform demonic voodoo rituals that involve various extremities falling off or an afterlife where he's trapped in a room with Stephen A. Smith, Jim Rome and Skip Bayless for all eternity (note: this is also Hell for Rome, and on some level, you'd also have to feel for the demons that had to go to work near this area), I'd say you were as justified as can be.

But, and here's the awful, awful, awful truth... what happened to you wasn't on the court. And if it's not on the court, in the long run, no one cares. But you.

The Thunder could play in North Korea, and I'd still watch them. They could play in Tehran, and I'd eventually find something nice to say about the fans, just because they were somewhere near this team. Their fans in OKC could forgo the blue shirts and come in white robes and hoods, and I'd suspect that this, too, helped support the home team, since they would be much more used to it than the roadies.

Thunder Fan comes early, stay throughout, scream for miles and puts every other fan base in the Association to shame with their devotion. Just like Portland used to do, just like Sacramento used to do, and just like the Warriors always do. (Oh, Warrior Fan, you so deserve a real franchise.)

Not that it excuses things or matters, but they are better at this than you, but that really doesn't matter that much, either. Maybe every franchise should move every few years to some virgin territory, just to get this level of home court nitrous.

Having said that... you could put the Thunder in an empty warehouse with no real fan base (Newark?), and they'd still be one of my favorite teams in recent memory. You could disclose that their ownership not only robs cities of their teams, but is also personally responsible for reality TV, and I'd grit my teeth and look past it.

There are worse owners. There are worse cities. There are no better fans.

And if you really love hoop, you would forget what it said on the laundry and root for them, because they are just that much fun to watch.

Oh, and one final point: the crowds are with me on this. Game One did record ratings for ABC, up 10% over last year's Mavs-Heat game. Seattle was under the national average in 40th place, tied with San Diego. And the market that's watching the 5th most in the country, behind the local markets for these two teams is... Cleveland. Heh. (Oh, and I hope you are sitting down for the fact that the Boston and Los Angeles markets have tuned out.)

So, feel bad all you want. Turn away from the casino owners; you probably always should. The rest of us, who love the game and put up with the rest, will be glued to our sets.

And if you aren't...

Well, doesn't that just kind of prove the point that the players might be better off now?

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