Monday, November 9, 2009

This man needs a job....

The baseball off-season is officially underway, what with trades already happening, players re-signing with their teams, a confessed steroid user exercising his $20 million player option rather than test the free agent market, after tanking on yet another team, following a 50-game suspension. It's just Manny being Manny, and it's just another off season in Major League Baseball. The countdown to pitchers and catcher reporting has begun (95 days, if you're counting at home). And it's also time to sort out new managers. Some teams are set with their skippers, while others will start scouring the available managers to lead their clubs into battle in 2010.

The Cleveland Indians have already made their selection. They interviewed several candidates. They looked at very qualified assistant coaches (Mattingly, Don) as well as plenty of re-treads (Hurdle, Clint). In the end, they settled on Manny Acta. He seems like a really nice guy, too. But what pedigree does he bring with him? His .385 winning percentage in 410 games managing the Washington Nationals? His propensity for finishing in last place? I'm curious as to the qualifications that Indians' GM Mark Shapiro was looking for in his next field boss.

There was another candidate that Shapiro and the Indians interviewed and tossed aside. He's currently employed part time by ESPN, and he's managed before. He's managed successfully, as a matter of fact. And he might very well be the smartest man in baseball who is not employed by a Major League Baseball team at the current time. He is the only man who, in 2000, said Ichiro could not only play baseball with Major League players here in America, but that he would excel at it. Other scouts, managers and GMs scoffed at the notion. They said Ichiro was too slight. That his game was great in Japan but would not translate well over here. All Ichiro has done since joining the Seattle Mariners is have 200 or more hits in every season he's played, break the single season hits record (262), win the rookie of the year, an AL MVP trophy, lead the league in batting average twice, stolen bases once and be an All Star selection every single year he's played. The same man who was the only man to predict Ichiro could do these things was also asked prior to game one of the 2009 World Series two questions. The first question was - who will win the World Series? He answered - The Yankees, in 6 games. The second question was - Who will be the X-factor in the World Series? He answered - Hideki Matsui. The Yankees won in 6 games, and Matsui was named MVP of the Series.

This man has managed two MLB teams in his career. In his first full season managing the Texas Rangers, he improved them by 25 wins over the previous season. He took a 62-99 team and turned them into an 85-77 team. Six years later, he was fired. He was fired mid season, with the Rangers 45-41. His replacement led the team to a 32-44 record the rest of the way. A few years later, after managing the New York Mets' triple-A team to an astounding 82-59 record, he was promoted to manage the big club. As manager of the Mets, he led them to 5 consecutive seasons of over .500 baseball. He led them to back to back playoff appearances (the Mets would kill for such success these days) in 1999 and 2000. And he led them to their first World Series berth in 14 years in 2000. Since he was fired after the 2002 season, the Mets have made the playoffs only once.

Yes, this man has his quirks. He was once ejected from a game. He proceeded to go into the clubhouse, put on funny glasses and nose and return to the dugout, "incognito". The umpires noticed the obvious, over-the-top costume and ejected him.....again. But his quirks and his quick temper do not take away from his genius. He was a transcendent figure while managing in Japan these past 5 seasons. He led his team to the championship over there. And, when the Chiba Lotte Marines' management decided they wanted to fire him after the 2009 season, the fans signed a petition in an attempt to keep him - all the fans. How beloved a man must he be to get fans to sign a petition to keep him - a manager, not a player? When Joe Torre and the Yankees parted ways after the 2007 season, there was no petition to keep Joe. And he led the Yankees to 13 consecutive playoff appearances and 4 World titles. After Joe Girardi botched the 2008 season so badly that the Yankees missed the playoffs, there was still no petition to bring the real Joe back to the Bronx. So, imagine how popular this man must have been to garner such respect and admiration of an entire fan base.

I implore some GM, some owner, someone in MLB with a brain - hire this man. He will do wonderful things for your ballclub. If I had Brian Sabean's number on speed dial, I would be calling him right now, telling him to dump Bruce Bochy and hire this man.

Please, somebody hire Bobby Valentine.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Boycotting the Hype and Hyperbole

In case you missed it, there is a pretty big event happening in Minnesota tonight. After 162 games, the Minnesota Twins and the Detroit Tigers are tied for the AL Central Division title. They will meet in a one-game playoff to determine the winner of the division and the right to go to the 2009 ALDS against the New York Yankees. The Twins will host the Tigers in what could be their final game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. This will be the 9th time in MLB history that two teams had to play on the day after the regular season ended in a one game playoff. Wait a second, what's that? The game is not being played the day after the regular season? It's being played TWO days later? I'm confused. Did Detroit need a travel day to get from Detroit to Minneapolis? This is unprecedented. No, obviously that's not the case. What happened here was that the NFL's 4th game of the regular season took precedent over a one-game playoff to determine a MLB division champ.

Now, don't get me wrong. The NFL was well within their rights to not move tonight's Media Hype Bowl. The game as it read on the schedule was Green Bay at Minnesota, Monday, October 5th at 8:30 pm. So the NFL has first rights of refusal here. And that's exactly what they used. They trumped a one game playoff for their precious media darling game. A game that will be watched by what is being estimated as the most televisions ever for a regular season game. Can't move that. Too much revenue to be made tonight. Or could they? Anyone who follows the NFL at all knows that the Packers and the Vikings both reside in the NFC North. That means that they play each other twice each season. Once in Minnesota and once in Green Bay. They actually could have spiced up Media Hype Bowl by moving the game to Green Bay tonight and creating an even bigger stir for Ryan Longwell's homecoming (that is who this is all about right? The ex- Green Bay Packer, turned Minnesota Vikings kicker, right?). But the NFL said no. They said no to flip-flopping the home games for the two teams (which I find quite ironic, considering the fact that this game is all about the biggest flip-flopper this side of John Kerry). And they naturally said no to moving the game to Sunday Night or Tuesday Night, for revenue issues.

So, now, the Tigers and Twins can take in the football game Monday Night and wait until Tuesday to play their one game playoff. Of course, this creates problem number 2, and a potential controversy. The Tigers/Twins winner will play the New York Yankees. The Yankees owned the best record in baseball this year. That gives them the privilege of deciding if they want the ALDS to begin on Wednesday or Thursday (theoretically, to better help them set their pitching rotation). Never, in the over 100 years of baseball has a team not had a day off before starting the playoffs. If the Yankees so choose, they can force the Tigers or Twins into this scenario, while a team that didn't even win their division - the Red Sox - gets an extra day of rest while travelling out west. Somehow, that doesn't seem right.

So, while I am only one person, and I am quite certain that the NFL won't miss me all that much tonight, I am boycotting tonight's Packers-Vikings game. There are fantasy football implications for me (go Percy Harvin). But I am sure I can find something else on to kill those three hours. Oh look, the Rangers and Devils are playing tonight on versus. I think I'll tune into that rivalry game instead.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Heaven on Earth.....For a day

I woke up this morning a little before 7am to take my son to school. The weather was a nice 80 degrees and there was not a cloud in the sky. The high today is supposed to touch 90 degrees, with only a slight chance of rain. Yet, today, just for today, I with I would have woken up to 48 degrees and cloudy with a 50% chance of rain. Today's high in Detroit is only 58 degrees, and there is a good chance of rain, with basically no chance of sunshine. None whatsoever. Yet, today, I wish I was there instead of here. At approximately 12:05 today in downtown Detroit, the Tigers and Twins will square off in a double header - this is the latest point in the season that two teams this close in the standings are playing a double header against each other. And I wish I was there.

Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, MLB did away with scheduled double headers. Teams wanted to make sure they got the revenue from all 81 home games, and didn't want to give up the revenue from a game to schedule a double header. Even today's double header between the Twins and Tigers is a day-night double header. This way, the Tigers can still get two games' revenues today. The sad thing is, a lot of baseball's great traditions went by the wayside because of revenue. MLB refuses to have even one World Series game played during the day. A day game in the World Series would lead to fathers taking the day off of work- or at least taking a half day. They could rush over to school to pick up their sons (or daughters) and get home to watch the World Series. Maybe then, our kids would be more into baseball.

Double headers are also a thing of the past. A 12:00 or 1:00 start - 18 innings of baseball. For baseball fans, that is a day of pure heaven. And now, those days are gone. And even though there will be a 3 or 4 hour break between games today, it's still the perfect day to be in Detroit. Two teams, separated by 2 games for one playoff spot. Two games, 18 (or more) innings. By 10:00 tonight, the lead could be 4 games. Or the two teams could be tied. Or the Tigers could still have a two game lead, with 2 fewer games remaining in the season. Those are the only three possible outcomes (barring another rain out). Today in Detroit is the perfect day to play hookey. Take the day off of work. Keep your kids out of school. Go to the ballpark. Watch 21-year old sensation Rick Porcello in game one. Then go across the street and grab a burger. Relax for a couple hours and walk back across the street to Comerica Park for the nightcap. Tigers' Ace, Justin Verlander will take the mound against Joe Mauer and the Twins. Will the Twins be going for the tying game in game 2 or will Detroit look to all but end Minnesota's season when Verlander takes the hill? Nobody knows. But one thing is for sure. This Florida boy would love to bundle up me and my 5-year old son for the next 11 hours and watch two teams battle head to head in a classic day-night double header.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thoughts on September's Final Weekend.....

I got my MLB Network back last night.....just in time to watch Brian Wilson torment and torture me one more time. With the Giants one strike away from pulling within 3 games of Wild Card leading Colorado, Wilson served up a 2-run home run to Jeff Baker. It was Baker's 4th home run of the season. The 26th home run of his 5 year major league career. I was crushed. I posted some very nasty words about Mr. Wilson on my facebook page. And apparently, he is not that well known to the non-San Francisco Giants fans, as I had several replies asking why I was mad at the Beach Boys. As I try to gather myself from yet another crushing Giants defeat, I offer up some of what I expect to happen on this, the final weekend in September.....

  • The Colorado Rockies finish with St. Louis, Milwaukee and the LA Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves (only 3 1/2 games back now) finish with 7 of their last 10 games against Washington. By the end of the weekend, the Rockies and the rest of the world will be watching the Braves make a serious run at the Wild Card.
  • The New York Yankees will clinch the division against the hated Red Sox. This will lead to a lot of premature celebration on the Yankees part.
  • South Carolina will wake up Sunday Morning and be ranked anywhere from 15-18 in the AP College poll. They will get this ranking largely due to a win over an extremely overrated Ole Miss team. And then nobody will be able to comprehend how South Carolina struggles the rest of the season.
  • The Florida Gators will struggle for the first half against Kentucky, before pulling away in the 2nd half. This will lead voters to start doubting Tebow and the Gators. This will be a mistake.
  • The Miami Hurricanes will go into Blacksburg and beat Virginia Tech, vaulting them into the National Championship conversation. It will also give the Hokies their second loss of the season (both to top-10 ranked teams). They will then be ranked below South Carolina. That is a joke.
  • Texas will finally make a statement...against UTEP. So, really????
  • Houston will be shown that is not a true contender when Texas Tech beats them this weekend on their own home turf.
  • Penn State will avenge last season's loss to Iowa.....and it won't be close. But nobody will really notice because, yes, the Big 10 really is that bad.
  • Brett Favre will try to make too many plays in his home opener to impress his new fan base. And it will cost the Vikings the game.
  • The Cincinnati Bengals will prove that they are for real (they should be 2-0 as it is) when they get their signature win by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • The Detroit Lions will snap their 19-game losing streak, by beating the Washington Redskins 20-17.
  • The Miami Dolphins will continue to prove that they were the beneficiaries of an overly easy schedule last year, that led them to their 11-5 record, as they fall to 0-3.
  • The San Francisco Giants will find yet another way to tease me, then crush me this only they can do (well them and high school girls from 1989-1992).

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Plea to the Detroit Tigers

To: Mike Ilitch
CC: Dave Dombrowski, Jim Leyland, Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Brandon Inge, Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello, Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney
Re: Please save baseball from the impending apocalypse

Dear Detroit Tigers,

Last night at approximately 11:35pm eastern time, I pronounced the San Francisco Giants playoff hopes dead. When your 2nd best pitcher is on the mound with a 3-0 lead (2 of the runs driven in by the pitcher, himself), and less than 45 minutes later you're losing 9-4....your playoff hopes are basically DOA. The Giants were largely considered the team that could make the baseball playoffs fun again - with Lincecum and Cain and Kung Fu Panda and a bunch of blue collar guys that were scrappy enough to cheer for. They're out. Now, you guys claim the throne of America's team. Why? Here's why: If the Twins overtake you guys for the AL Central crown, they will get thumped by the Yankees in round one. It won't be pretty. The Royals would put up a better fight. At least in that case, Zack Greinke could keep the Royals in a game. If the Twins face the Yankees, the Bronx Bombers will put up 30-35 runs in a boring 3-game sweep. And then, since the Red Sox have the Angels number in the post season for reasons that nobody can figure out, we will be headed for yet another Yankees-Red Sox ALCS, that quite frankly bores the hell out of 90% of America. If you live or lived in the northeast at some point in your life, you love it. If not, you're tired of it. ESPN's Jim Caple even wrote about it. The Yankees-Red Sox "rivalry" is a media-hyped illusion. Would it be a highly rated ALCS from a TV standpoint? Of course. So would the Yankees vs. the Tacoma Rainiers. New York is the biggest TV market in the US. People either watch the Yankees to see them win or to see them lose. But, you, the Detroit Tigers can save us from all the hyperbole and over-hyped media love a Yankees-Red Sox ALCS would bring with it. How? Simple - win the AL Central and beat the Yankees in the ALDS.

But we went 1-5 against the Yankees in the regular season, you say. No worries. In 1997 and 2003, the Giants went 5-1 against the Marlins in the regular season both years (and in 2003, the Giants had the best record in baseball). The Marlins promptly ended their season in the NLDS both years. So, you have history on your side. You also haven't played the Yankees since July. Your offense is better now than it was then. Their pitching is wearing down. Andy Pettitte's arm looks more tired than Brett Favre's. CC Sabathia has a career ERA of 3.62 in the regular season and 7.92 in the post season. In other words, he's eminently beatable. And AJ Burnett is the New York Yankees version of Nuke Lalouche. He has a million dollar arm and a 5 cent head. He's also never pitched in the post season. And we all know Alex Rodriguez just lives for the post season. And you guys have beaten the Yankees in this situation before. Remember 2006? You weren't supposed to beat the Yankees then. And after dropping game 1, you guys dropped them faster than Mike Tyson dropped Michael Spinks. Justin Verlander is good enough to shut down the Yankees offense. Edwin Jackson has nasty stuff and Rick Porcello is just young enough and just dumb enough to not understand the gravity of the situation - think Josh Beckett in Yankee Stadium in game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

You guys can do it. You can save baseball. Granderson and Cabrera and Inge and Ordonez. It's up to you guys to save baseball. Save us from the hyperbole. Save us from the media hype. Save us from an ALCS that nobody wants. Save baseball. Don't make me write a letter to the Angels. I'm still bitter from 2002.

David Krakower.....and the rest of baseball fans outside of New York and Boston

Monday, September 21, 2009

Owner of a Lonely Heart...

The Dallas Cowboys opened their new $1.2 Billion Dollar "palace" last night. The .2 part of that represents $200,000,000. The Florida Marlins ENTIRE FRANCHISE isn't worth the .2 portion of the Cowboys new home stadium. Jerry Jones, Owner of the Cowboys, has been mocked, ridiculed and publicly berated for his state of the art video board that hangs above the field. Mind you, it is well within the height requirements that the NFL dictates. But the media would have you believe that every time a punter punts a ball, it will hit this "monstrosity", causing a do-over and thus lengthening the game. Some reporters even joke that the game will now take 5 hours and punts will be the most exciting thing to watch during Cowboys home games. The following is an excerpt of an article written on Friday, on - "And you know what? I am genuinely excited for every single punt at New Cowboys Stadium. Oh, like you'll be turning the channel? Come on! This is gonna be great. Hit the scoreboard! Hit it! Hit it! YESSSS! I can't remember the last time I was this excited for something this stupid, and when the old farts in the media get riled up on Monday because five punts hit the scoreboard and somebody's wedge guy pulled a hamstring sprinting downfield for the fourth time in three minutes, even better."
Guess what? Exactly ZERO punts hit the scoreboard last night. None were even close. Jones, amid tremendous pressure and ridicule, chose not to raise the scoreboard. It would have cost him a little less than $2 million to do it (in other words 1/100 of the .2 portion of the stadium cost). So, clearly, he has the money to do it. He left it there, out of principal and because the height that it is at right now is the optimum viewing level for fans. And that is why Jones gets it. He is an owner who 100% gets the purpose of his job. Owners like Jones, Daniel Snyder, Mark Cuban, and yes, even George Steinbrenner get it. They all get mocked publicly for their behavior and their lavish spending. But ask any fan of any of those teams, and the answer will all be the same - their owner is trying to put a winning product on the field at any cost. Why do we mock that?

Why isn't there more public outcry for owners like Donald Sterling and Jeffrey Loria and Bob Nutting? These are owners who take fans' money and revenue sharing money from TV and other owners and then do not put it back into their teams- but rather pocket the profits. They don't care whether their team wins or loses. All they care about is a quick buck.

But owners like Steinbrenner, Cuban, Snyder and Jones - they all reinvest that money into their teams. Yes, they are multi-billionaires and have the wherewithal to do this, but the fact remains, they choose to do it. They are just as much fans as they are owners. They live and breathe their teams, just as we fans do. They care whether their team wins or loses. And that, in this day and age is noble. I would much rather throw my support behind an owner I know invests his money, his heart and his soul into his team, than an owner who is using his team as a tax shelter, while pocketing the profits.

Think about it, if I gave you $1 billion and told you to buy a sports franchise. First, you'd pick your favorite team, so you could run it your way. Then you would do anything and everything you could to make that team a winner. And that's all these guys have done. They are just like you and know, with a couple extra billion in their pockets.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Giant Heartache.....again

I sat down on my couch and flipped my TV to ESPN for the Rockies-Giants game. The Giants had won the first two games of the series to pull within 2 1/2 games of the NL Wild Card leading Rockies. The Giants had Matt Cain on the mound and the home crowd behind them (which has led the Giants to the best home record in the National League in 2009). A win would give the Giants all the momentum heading into the final 16 games of the season. A loss would knock the Giants 3 1/2 games back, and not having the Rockies on their schedule the final 2 1/2 weeks would make it highly improbable that the Giants could catch them. Essentially, this was the Giants biggest game since 2003.

I remember all the Giants big games. I can remember them with vivid detail. I remember the 1987 NLCS vs. St. Louis. I remember being up 3 games to 2 and losing game 6 to force game 7 in St. Louis. I remember the Cardinals winning game 7, 1-0, on a measly sacrifice fly. I remember 1989, the famous Earthquake World Series. And I remember the A's beating the Giants in 4 straight. I remember watching game 4 from my bed. Seeing the A's win 13-7 and Dennis Eckersely throwing his glove in the air after Brett Butler grounded out to end the World Series. I remember 1993, when a 103-win Giants team lost to the LA Dodgers on the last game of the season 12-3, because the Giants decided that rookie sensation Salomon Torres was the right choice to start such a pivotal game. The Braves won 104 games that season. The Giants went home. I remember 1997 and Devon White's grand slam. I remember 1998 and Neifi Perez's home run in the bottom of the ninth off Robb Nen to force a one-game playoff for the Giants vs. the Cubs. Which, of course, the Cubs won. I remember 2000, and the 10-inning game that gave the Mets the momentum that carried them to the NLDS win over the Giants. I remember the 2002 World Series when Dusty handed Russ Ortiz the game ball with 8 outs to go before the Giants would win their first World Championship in San Francisco. Their first in my lifetime. Their first since 1954. And then the Angels stormed back for 6 runs and beat the Giants 6-5. Then beat them 4-1 in game 7. I remember 2003. Jose Cruz's dropped fly ball in extra innings. Jeff Conine's throw. JT Snow crashing into Pudge at the plate. And Pudge holding onto the ball, defiantly. I remember all these moments as if they happened yesterday. The Giants always break my heart. And yet, I keep running back to them for more. Like a spouse who keeps taking their spouse back that cheats on them, saying, "this time it will be different. This time, she/he won't cheat on me." And they cheat. And the Giants break my heart.

The Giants have been a marginally good (and I'm being kind) team since 2003. And my heartbreak usually happens in June or July when I realize this. Not September or October. But this year, the Giants have put something special together. Their 1-2 punch of Lincecum and Cain is as good as their is in baseball (only Wainwright-Carpenter in St Louis compares). Barry Zito has found himself as a pitcher. Brad Penny looks re-born in San Francisco. And add to that Jonathan Sanchez threw the team's first no hitter since 1975 and something special was going on by the bay. They needed some more offense. But in the first two games against Colorado, they scored 19 runs and looked like a team on a mission to make the playoffs....and with their pitching staff, make some noise in the playoffs. So, the stage was set for the Giants to sweep the Rockies and carry that momentum into the playoffs. And then a funny thing happened, the game started.

Cain was not sharp. He gave up 2 home runs and left the game with the Giants trailing 4-0. The Giants bullpen held the Rockies in check for the final three innings, but the Giants' bats were completely overmatched against Rockies' pitchers, Jorge de la Rosa. For 8 innings, he completely shut them down, limiting them to just three hits. When the Giants did rally in the 6th inning - putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out, de la Rosa proceeded to strike out the next three hitters. And then Rockies' manager Jim Tracy made a questionable move. With de la Rosa in total control of the Giants, he lifted him for a reliever after 8 innings. The Giants bats came alive against Rockies' interim closer Franklyn Morales. Freddy Sanchez led off the ninth with a line drive single. Pablo Sandoval followed with a sharp single. Then Bengie Molina ripped a single that scored Sanchez. 4-1. Still nobody out. The Giants have life. Tracy lifted Morales for another reliever, Rafael Betencourt. He induced Juan Uribe into what appeared to be a rally-killing double play. Only, Troy Tulowitzki's throw whizzed past Garrett Atkins head at second base. 4-2. Giants now with 1st and 3rd and still nobody out and Mr. Clutch strolling to the plate. The Giants pinch run speedy Eugenio Velez at 1st base and he promptly steals 2nd. 2nd and 3rd, nobody out. Edgar Renteria, who won the 1997 World Series for the Florida Marlins with a hit, and who two weeks earlier hit a game winning grand slam off of Betancourt just needs a single to tie the game. Or a fly ball to the outfield to move the runners up. Or a ground ball to the right side. Renteria promptly pops out to 2nd. But that's only 1 out. A single still ties it. Pinch hitter Randy Winn grounds out to first. But the runners move up. 4-3. Runner on third, two outs. Nate Schierholtz coming up. Strike one. Strike two. Strike three (granted their were three balls thrown too, and he swung at ball four, but you get the point).

I slumped down into my couch cushions. It was 1:36 am and the Giants had done it to me again. And you know what, when they take the field this weekend in Los Angeles, I will still root like hell for them. And I will root like hell the rest of the season. Because that's what we fans do. We root and we root for our teams. They may break our heart like a cheating spouse, but we keep coming back for more.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shhhhh.....Don't tell anyone, but Hockey is back....

If a professional sporting event takes place, but ESPN refuses to report it, did it actually happen? An NHL hockey game was played last night. Did you know this? It's true. I promise. While most of America was either watching the Bills and Raiders choke away sure victories in the closing moments of their respective Monday Night Football games; or watching Dirty Dancing on a continuous loop in honor of Patrick Swayze; or watching Tim Lincecum pitch the Giants back into the NL Wild Card Race; or watching Racist Kanye West read the half-assed apology that his publicist wrote, on the Jay Leno show, an NHL Hockey game, was in fact played. Fans showed up (approximately 4,000 of them). The Islanders and the Canucks showed up. And Vancouver won 2-1. All this did happen last night. But did you know about it? And tonight, 6 more NHL pre-season games are being played, including the Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Oh, but it's pre-season, you say.

I am pretty sure, in fact, I am 100% certain, that in roughly a month, ESPN will show highlights of NBA pre-season games. And in August, they showed highlights (and even televised) NFL pre-season games. And in March, MLB Spring Training is front and center on Sportscenter. So what gives with hockey? Does ESPN and Fox Sports and any other Sports Channel you can find this side of the NHL Network and VS. just ignore hockey? It would appear so. But don't hold the networks solely accountable for keeping hockey out of your homes.

When the NHL came back from its year-long hiatus (you call it a lock out, I call it a hiatus), Gary Bettman quite arrogantly shunned ESPN and FOX, opting instead for an exclusive deal with VS. and NBC. Three out of five American homes don't even get the VS. channel.....and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals games are contractually obligated to be broadcast exclusively on VS. Let me say that another way - 60% of Americans canNOT watch 2 of the NHL's Championship games....the most important games of the season. That's a problem.

When the hiatus ended in 2005, Bettman and his henchmen (he calls them Marketing gurus) traveled around to the 30 teams to speak to their front offices and fans. It was a decent gesture of goodwill. He was trying to reach out to the communities to assure them the game was headed in the right direction. Somebody should have prepped him. Or written out his answers for him. Or he should have sent Bozo the Clown in his place. All would have been more appealing options. I was working in the Front Office of the Phoenix Coyotes at the time (I'll wait to continue until you stop laughing. No seriously, stop laughing and keep reading. They really do play hockey in the desert. It's true. Nobody goes to the games. And nobody knows or cares about Wayne Gretzky - the team's part owner and head coach, and the greatest player of all time - but it's a real team. I swear.) Anyway, when Bettman addressed the front office and Coyotes season ticket holders (all 12 of them), one of the astute season ticket holders asked Bettman why he left the deal with ESPN and opted for VS. instead. Bettman's reply is one I will never forget. And I will never forget it for it's ignorance and arrogance. Four years later, I still shake my head over it. Bettman replied condescendingly, "We got a better deal from VS. [which was known as OLN in 2005 - the Outdoor Life Network]. It's an up and coming sports channel that will utilize the NHL as it's anchor to attract even more sports programming. I don't mind that they actually show Bull Riding and canoing now. I mean, look at ESPN. In the 1970s when they first started out, they were airing some pretty bad stuff, too."

Four years later, 60% of American homes still do not get VS. and it's not like ESPN has missed a beat without having hockey. It remains the most arrogant thing I have ever heard a sports commissioner say. And it has crushed his sport and rendered it essentially anonymous in the United States. The sport has grown by leaps and bounds on the ice. But for every one step forward on the ice, Bettman makes sure that the sport takes two steps back off the ice.

Six games are being played tonight....including one at storied Madison Square Garden in New York, between the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins. And in just a few minutes, the Pittsburgh Penguins will take the ice for the first time since they won the dramatic game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit, 3 months and 3 days ago. But will anybody who isn't at these Arenas even notice?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fantasy vs. Reality

Arizona led San Francisco 16-13 with less than 8:00 left. The 49ers had the ball at the Cardinals 3 yard line and lined up for a 3rd and goal. Shaun Hill dropped back, looked left into the end zone.....Isaac Bruce, covered......Josh Morgan, covered. He spun and looked right.....Arnaz Battle, covered. The Cardinal defenders were bearing down on him. Quickly, he checked down to Frank Gore, who had spun wide open in the flat. Caught at the 2 yard line....the 1......touchdown, San Francisco!!!! The 49ers would win the game 20-16. A road win against not only the defending division champs, but the defending conference champions, to open the season. I jumped up and down on my couch and pumped my fists. I let off a Ric Flair-like whooooooo! Then, all of a sudden, I slumped back onto the couch and my jubilation was tempered just a bit. Wait a second, I thought, as I scrambled through about a dozen printed sheets on my coffee table. "Oh crap!" One of my opponents I was playing against in fantasy football has Gore on his team, and now Gore has 2 TDs today, putting me in a big hole. That thought quickly exited my head and all I cared about was the 49ers being 1-0 and that hopefully LaDanian Tomlinson would do enough on Monday Night to give that particular fantasy team a win. But the thought did enter my head. Even if just for a fleeting moment. Was I wrong to have that thought? Or is that the new natural reaction in 2009 - be happy for your favorite team, but temper the enthusiasm until you find out if your opponent in fantasy football has the player who just scored the winning TD? Is a Bengals fan (all 10 of them, shouldn't be too hard to find them and ask) that has Brandon Stokley on his fantasy team, happy today? Let's examine....

I have been a 49ers fan for over 30 years. I have celebrated their triumphs and agonized over there defeats. I will never forget Joe Montana's 88-yard drive to win Super Bowl XXIII or the dismantling of the Dolphins (in Super Bowl XIX), the Broncos (in Super Bowl XXIV) and the Chargers (in Super Bowl XXIX). All told, I have watched the 49ers win 5 Super Bowls. I have watched great playoff comebacks and wretched playoff defeats. Like most fans, I use we and our when describing them. So, their losses become part of me, as do their victories. In over 30 years of rooting for them and about 20 years of sports gambling, I have one steadfast rule (you listening, Pete Rose?) I have never gambled against the 49ers. I have never gambled against any of my favorite teams, for that matter. On occasion, if I feel really confident, I will wager on them, but never against them. That is basically rule #2 in the true sports fans handbook (rule #1, Yankees fans, Gators fans, Notre Dame fans, post-2004 Red Sox fans, Cowboys fans and Lakers fans is never abandon your true team to jump on someone else's bandwagon). This of course leads to a very dicey question - isn't having a fantasy team a form of gambling? So, in effect, wasn't I - who was playing against Frank Gore yesterday - wagering against the 49ers in some form? Not exactly. I wanted the 49ers to score. And, once I thought about it, I didn't care that it was Gore who scored. I just would have preferred that someone else scored the TD (like Josh Morgan, for example. 3 catches for 38 yards. Bust out year, my butt!). It's not like I was rooting for Arizona to stop Gore from scoring. But just that little twinge gave me pause and made me ask myself which is more important - the team I have rooted for, cried over, cheered mercilessly for, for over 30 years.....or my wallet? Because remember, winning a fantasy league doesn't just give you bragging rights over your friends, but it usually fattens your wallet pretty well. Fantasy Sports, football in particular has become a big business.

When I was in college, me and some buddies started a fantasy league. Really, it was just for fun. We all threw in $20. There were 10 teams and the winner won the $200. Not exactly high finance. Now, league entry fees can be upwards of $200 or more, with payouts well into the thousands of dollars. So, really, there actually is a dilemma for fans. My heart and soul or my wallet? It's not like if the 49ers win the Super Bowl, I'm getting a ring or big fat bonus check from the organization for being a super fan. Actually, what I'd probably get is some lost income - since I'd wind up spending hundreds of dollars on Super Bowl Championship memorabilia and shirts. But if my fantasy team wins it all, I'm going to have quite a bit of extra money in my pocket. Money to hopefully spend on the 49ers if they ever win another Super Bowl.

There is not a right or wrong answer here. Traditionalists will say that you have to root for your team no matter what...and that fantasy sports is a dumb idea anyway. Some of the younger generation (the post-2004 Red Sox fans and post-1996 Gators fans) will say root for your fantasy team and then just pick a team that makes it to their sports' championship game to root for. Me? I'm a traditionalist. But I'm a traditionalist who could always use a little extra money. So, for now, for the rest of the 2009 NFL season, I say, Go Niners! And Go Hebrew Oilers! And Go Heartbreak Kids! And Go Holy Shirts and Pants! And Go.....wait, I can't really tell you the name of my 4th fantasy football team. It's just wrong. Just know that I am rooting really REALLY hard for LaDanian Tomlinson tonight. And I don't even like the Raiders, so tonight, there won't be a conflict of interest.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Defending the Indefensible...

Imagine yourself having just graduated from college. You've been offered a very lucrative job. It's been your life-long dream to work in this industry. It's what you went to college for. You are about to realize all of your dreams. The only downside is, you have to move 1,000 miles away from where you went to college and roughly 900 miles away from where you grew up. But this is your dream, so you do it. And you wind up doing it very well. Over the next 8 years, you win awards at your job. You are one of the best employees at what you do. During those 8 years, you get married, have kids and begin raising your family in your new environment. And you like it. You are living the fairy tale you always wanted to. Then, one day, out of the blue, your boss calls you into his office and tells you that you've been transferred to another branch, but this one is 3,000 miles away. You were never consulted on this. They didn't ask you if you'd be willing to go. And now, you have to go home and tell your family that either daddy is moving, or the entire family is being uprooted or you have to quit your job. Oh, and you have 5 days to move out there or forfeit your salary. You'd be pretty pissed, wouldn't you? Then why, for the love of God, is Richard Seymour being treated like garbage for having a natural human reaction? The preceding paragraph is exactly what just happened to Seymour when the Patriots traded him to the Raiders this week.

When a player gets traded from one team to another, we tend to only look at the ramifications it will have on that player or the team that traded for him or traded him away. We never take into account the human side of the equation. We only look at the teams involved in the trade, not the cities. We never think of the families. The collateral damage, if you will. When athletes sign free agent contracts, they get to take all of these things into account before signing with a team and a city. But when they are traded, most of them (the ones who don't have no-trade clauses in their contracts) just have to go. They have to leave their families behind or uproot them. And we, as fans, just take this for granted, because most of the time, the athlete does so with nary a peep. And we as fans gripe when a player like Seymour resists, because, well its his job to go....and he makes millions of dollars to do it. But those millions don't make it any easier to have to tell your wife and kids that your new office is 3,000 miles away. And there are other factors that most fans don't see or just turn a blind eye towards. Seymour is not the first athlete to resist a trade, after all.

Terrell Owens once got the NFL to void a trade on a technicality because he didn't want to play in Baltimore. Alonzo Mourning essentially held two NBA franchises hostage because he didn't want to play in Toronto. And Charles Johnson once forced the Colorado Rockies to pay him a $1 million trade fee to accept a trade from the Marlins to the Rockies. Why? Because Johnson would be forced to move from Florida (where there is no state income tax) to Colorado (where they have one of the highest state income taxes). I still consider that to be one of the shrewdest trade negotiation ploys a player has ever used. The point is, players, despite their salaries, still have some of the same worries and concerns that we do. We just tend to scoff at them because of what they do for a living and how much money they make.

Seymour was blindsided by the announcement of his trade to the Raiders. If he doesn't report to the Raiders in 5 days, he will be suspended for the season and lose over $3.6 million in salary. It's an expensive statement to make. But it appears as though it's one Seymour might be willing to make.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What were the qualifications?

Last night, I took a stroll through and stumbled upon the ballot for the 2009 MLB Man of the Year Award. Apparently, each team gets to nominate one player for the award, and then fans vote on the award. Players like Mike Lowell, Roy Halladay, Barry Zito, Albert Pujols and Ted Lilly are up for the award. All these players are great humanitarians and do wonders for their local communities. Meanwhile, the New York Yankees nominated.....wait for it........wait for it........Alex Rodriguez. No, I'm not kidding. The quarter of a billion dollar man is the Yankees choice for Man of the Year. The man who took Performance Enhancing drugs, then lied about it (seemingly multiple times) is the Yankees choice. The Yankees nominated an adulterer who tried to throw his own cousin under the bus as their best humanitarian. Really? This is your choice, Yankees? Not Derek Jeter? What- was he too obvious a choice? What about Mark Texiera? Jorge Posada? Mariano Rivera? What exactly were the qualifications that made ARod your candidate? I really want to know.

So, now Rodriguez gets his name on a ballot with a cancer survivor (Lowell) a well known humanitarian in his community (Dan Haren) and a man who married a woman with a 3-year old who had down syndrome and now donates time and money to that cause (Albert Pujols). What am I missing here? How does Rodriguez even belong in the same sentence as these guys when it comes to anything remotely charitable? And don't tell me about all the money he donated to the University of Miami - he did that for name recognition alone. If ever someone could be selfish while donating money, ARod managed to do it.

My guess is, the qualifications the Yankees thought MLB and its fans were looking for were: overpaid, steroid using, lying, cheating, adulterer. Well, if those are the qualifications, then ARod wins. Hands down.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Weekend Review....Jeter & College Football

The 2009 College Football season kicked off this weekend. It began with a punch and ended with a fury. Here are some things we learned in week 1 of College Football....
  • Pre-season polls are still as useless as tits on a bull. They are prejudicial, subjective, based off of roughly zero facts in evidence and skew the NCAA landscape for the entire season. Don't believe me? Just ask Missouri, Miami, Michigan and Cincinnati, who were all written off as non-factors before the weekend started. Ask Ohio State and Iowa, who were severely overrated until an Armed Forces School and a Directional school came within a whisker of beating them both.......on their own home turf, no less.
  • LeGarrette Blount is nothing more than a thug and a punk. But then again, we knew that before Thursday Night's "punch heard round the world". This guy is going to be earning millions next season in the NFL while honest, hard working Americans struggle to scrape by. A true testament to the ass backwards society we live in.
  • Oklahoma will struggle against good teams without Sam Bradford. Then again so would Florida without Tebow, Texas without McCoy, Ole Miss without Snead, etc... In other words, quit overreacting as though OU was overrated. BYU is a good team and basically every other school in the country would struggle if their #1 QB went down, too.
  • Florida, Texas, UNC, USC can all beat teams comprised of players who would be second high school. Congrats, boys!
  • Alabama, BYU, Boise State, Oklahoma St. can all beat ranked opponents and should be applauded for scheduling real out of conference games (therefore, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Oregon and Georgia deserve the same applause).
  • Rutgers is probably not going to be that sleeper team coming out of the Big East, as all the "experts" had predicted.
  • The Big East gets an automatic berth in a BCS game, while BYU, Boise State and Utah will have to go undefeated just to get consideration. Yup, that seems fair.
  • Miami and FSU may not be all the way back just yet, but they provided us with the game of the weekend and showed the rest of the ACC that they both play offense this year. Here's hoping for a December rematch in the ACC Title game. Though, UNC, Va Tech and Ga Tech might have something to say about it.
  • Missouri was picked to finish 4th in the Big 12 North behind Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado. That seems a bit off now, doesn't it?
  • The SEC East just became a 1-horse race. But the SEC West, now that's going to be fun - Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss are three teams all with a viable shot at Atlanta in December.


In other weekend news, Derek Jeter went 0-8 in the Yankees Double Header yesterday vs. Tampa Bay. Why is this news? Great question. Glad you asked. This is Jeter's 14th major league season. This was the first time in his career that he went hitless in both games of a double header. That is remarkable. So, that got me doing some research on Jeter. And I'll say it - when Jeter retires, he should go down as the second greatest player in New York Yankees history. That's right. I believe when the dust settles and people truly examine his numbers and take everything into account, he should be regarded higher that Mantle and Dimaggio and Gehrig and Berra and all of them, except Ruth. Consider the following - at some point over the next week or so, he will eclipse Gehrig for the most hits in Yankee history. He already has more hits by a shortstop than any other player in Major League history.

When Jeter steals his next base, he will join a very exclusive list in the 200/300/.300 club. He will join Willie Mays, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar as the only four players in history to hit 200 home runs, steal 300 bases and have a career batting average over .300. Babe Ruth can't make that claim, neither can Mantle, Dimaggio, Hank Aaron or even Barry Bonds. And, Jeter will have the highest batting average of the 4 players in the club.

Jeter should finish his career with over 3,000 hits and possibly even 3,500 hits. He won the 1996 Rookie of the Year. He is a 4-time World Series Champion. He is a 10-time All Star. He has won 3 gold gloves as well as the 2000 All Star Game and World Series MVP. The sad thing is, the writers who vote for the season MVP rely so heavily on numbers and not intangibles that Jeter has yet to win an AL MVP. That should change this year. But it appears he is behind teammate Mark Texiera (who was MIA in April) and Joe Mauer (who missed 3 weeks of the season and is playing on a team probably not headed for the post season). Jeter deserves the MVP this year. He deserves his place in Yankee lore.

Sure, Jeter's number will be retired one day and he will be enshrined in both Cooperstown (though, apparently he won't be getting Jim Rice's vote) and Monument Park. But Jeter's rightful place is next to Babe Ruth as one of the two greatest Yankees ever to don the Pinstripes.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Eagles will soar in '09

By this time next Sunday, most of America will be sitting around their TV sets, flipping their remotes vigorously to catch every second of every NFL game on. Domino's and Papa Johns delivery drivers will be burning more fuel than Al Gore's Lear jet. Side note- seriously, if Oil companies wanted to make more money and NOT gauge the American Public, here is my suggestion, just raise gas prices on Sundays and Mondays during the NFL season (when I am certain more people order delivery than any other time of the year). This way, the big time corporations who pay for the gas mileage for their drivers get stuck paying the overpriced gas prices, and the rest of us can be sure that we only get gas on Tuesday - Saturday, when it is mandated that gas cannot be over $1.99 a gallon. This wouldn't work? Why not? Since President Obama is losing the Health Care debate worse than Charleston Southern lost last night, I think he should look into this idea. It's a winner.

Ok, back on point, this is the final Sunday of 2009 without NFL football. So, it appears to be the perfect time to unveil my 2009 NFL Predictions, division by division.

Brady is back. The Dolphins have the toughest schedule in football and history is not on their side. The Bills did not improve by adding T.O. and Lynch is suspended for 4 games. The Jets are starting a rookie QB and his best Wide Receiver is a 2nd string running back. Meanwhile, the Patriots just swindled the Raiders into a 1st Rd pick in 2011 (and it's the Raiders, so let's be real, it's going to be a top-5 pick) for a defensive lineman whose contract is up after 2009. Sometimes, I think the Patriots use the Jedi mind trick on teams when talking trade with them.

Predicted order of finish:
Patriots 11-5
Dolphins 8-8
Bills 7-9
Jets 6-10

It's always hard to repeat as Super Bowl Champion. Pittsburgh is going to have an even tougher time doing it in a very competitive division. Baltimore still has a fantastic defense, but questions still loom about their offense. The Browns can't make up their mind on their QBs, and it's not like they are debating between Montana and Marino. Their defense still has swiss cheese-like holes in it. And they have RB issues. This is not a recipe for success on Lake Erie. Meanwhile, in the southern part of Ohio, a sleeper looms. A healthy Carson Palmer. A hungry and oddly overlooked receiving corps. A RB looking for a second chance. A vastly underrated defense. And a maligned head coach with something to prove. Hello 2009 Sleeper!!!

Predicted order of finish:
Bengals 11-5
Steelers 10-6
Ravens 10-6
Browns 4-12

Welcome to this season's most overrated division. The Texans are the chic pick to be this year's sleeper. Does anybody realize that Rex Grossman, REX GROSSMAN, is a Matt Schaub injury away from being their QB. And Schaub gets injured every year. He already sustained an injury in pre-season. The Jags are poised to rebound from their 5-11 season. They are? With what passing game? And what offensive line? The Titans had the league's best record last year. Yeah, and they lost their best defensive player, one of their Wide Receivers, Kerry Collins is another year older. Meanwhile, lying in wait is the team nobody seems to be talking about. This year, things return to their natural order in the south.

Predicted order of finish:
Colts 12-4
Titans 9-7
Texans 8-8
Jaguars 7-9

Does a pre-season prediction even matter in this division. You could simulate this season 1,000 times and 999 of them, the same outcome will be reached - this division has only one team that will finish over .500 and make the playoffs. It's the same team every time. Try as you might to find a sleeper here and all you find is three teams just flat out sleeping. If San Diego doesn't go 6-0 in divisional play, they should all take handguns to a NYC night club.

Predicted order of finish:
Chargers 13-3
Chiefs 7-9
Raiders 6-10
Broncos 5-11

AFC PLAYOFF TEAMS: Chargers, Colts, Patriots, Bengals, Steelers, Ravens

Probably the most intriguing division maybe in the history of the NFL. Ask 20 different NFL analysts, and you'll get legitimate arguments as to why all 4 teams can win the division and why all 4 teams can miss the playoffs. It's fantastic. It's the best division in football. All 4 teams can, and very well might, finish over .500. It's the anti-AFC West. I love the Redskins young and fast defense. But I hate their passing offense. I love the Giants rushing attack and their defense. But I hate their Wide Receivers. Oh, and brother Manning is still less than 24 months removed from nearly being run out of town. Now he's a $100 million man. The Cowboys have the flash and the new stadium (with some low-hanging fruit). They also have a dandy running game. But not much else. And the Eagles have a chip on their shoulder. Don't underestimate that chip. Or McNabb. Or Westbrook (if he's healthy). Or their receiving corps (man, is it fast). Or their pass rush.

Predicted order of finish:
Eagles 12-4
Giants 10-6
Redskins 9-7
Cowboys 8-8

Brett Favre used to play for the Packers. They hate the Vikings. The Vikings are Favre's new team. Favre's old team now has Aaron Rodgers, maybe the most talented QB in the division. But their biggest rivals are the Bears, who just traded for Jay Cutler, the QB that most people call the next Brett Favre. The Packers have the best set of Wide Receivers in the division. The Vikings have the best running back. The Bears have the best defense (and their running back is pretty good, too). Oh yeah, the Lions play in this division, too, in case anyone forgot.

Predicted order of finish:
Bears 11-5
Packers 10-6
Vikings 8-8
Lions 2-14

The Saints play offense. They play it pretty well. As a matter of fact, I don't think anyone will score as many points as they will. All they need is something that resembles a defense to run away with what will be a very mediocre division. The Falcons, like the Dolphins in the AFC, will come back to Earth a bit - remember for all the hoopla, Matt Ryan only threw 16 TDs last year. The Bucs have a lot of question marks on both sides of the ball. And the Panthers play great defense and can run the ball down your throat. But do you trust Jake Delhomme anymore? Me neither.

Predicted order of finish:
Saints 12-4
Panthers 9-7
Falcons 8-8
Bucs 6-10

Talk about mediocre. At least the AFC West and NFC South have a bonafide Super Bowl contender in it. What's that? The defending NFC Champions, who came within a whisker of winning last year's Super Bowl reside here? Crazy talk! What I see are three teams that are 8-8 caliber (though one of them will find a way to go 9-7 and win the division because the league mandates somebody has to) and one team that will be lucky to win any games this year. Seriously, other than divisional games, where are the Rams getting a win from? I'll wait. Yeah, exactly. They have a beat up offensive line. Their QB is already hurt. Their Wide Receivers are Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson (no, that's not a punchline, it's the truth) and their defense will give up 30 points a game. Other than Steven Jackson, what's to like?

Predicted order of finish:
49ers 9-7
Seahawks 8-8
Cardinals 7-9
Rams 3-13

NFC PLAYOFF TEAMS: Eagles, Saints, Bears, 49ers, Giants, Panthers

Patriots over Ravens
Bengals over Steelers
Bears over Panthers
Giants over 49ers

Chargers over Bengals
Colts over Patriots
Eagles over Giants
Bears over Saints

Colts over Chargers
Eagles over Bears

Eagles over Colts

Of course, there is no chance any of this will prevail. I guess we'll just have to tune in each week to the best reality show on TV - NFL Sundays (and Mondays, and the occasional Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays).

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Sad Day at Michigan and Trumbull

When I turned on my computer this morning to, I saw a head line that brought a tear to my eye. As I read the article, the tear slipped out of my eye and down my right cheek. I wiped it away with my thumb but the emotion, the sadness remained. The last time I remember shedding a tear and it having anything to do with sports was in 1993 (but that's a story for another time). This time, I wasn't shedding any tears for my team losing or even a player that I idolized passing away. This had nothing to do with a player. But this had everything to do with baseball.

It was late Spring, 1999. I was in my first season in the front office of the Detroit Tigers. I was 24, very green and unbelievably wet behind the ears. I was still awe struck anytime I met a player or anyone famous that worked for the team at the time. So, when my boss asked if anyone wanted to help out the Tigers' radio guys during a game, I volunteered faster than Usain Bolt runs the 100 yard dash. An opportunity to work in the Press Box for a game with Jim Price and Ernie Harwell? Don't mind if I do!

When I got up to the booth, Price, an ex big-league catcher, was less than friendly. He certainly has more charisma than Kirk Gibson, but then again, so does a sloth. But meeting Price and hanging around him was not the highlight of my night. Not even close. Shortly after I set up the radio booth with the requisite visiting team stats, an elderly gentleman walked into the room. He looked like a grandfather. He was unassuming and polite. He took off his cap, smiled and shook my hand as if it were me who was the celebrity in the room. "Hi, I'm Ernie Harwell. Pleasure to meet you." "Yeah, I know," I responded softly. "It's an honor, sir." He laughed, "You're honored to meet an old man? You need to get out more." And that's how the night went. While Price was busy sulking and being crotchety, Harwell and I exchanged barbs and laughed for 3 hours during a Tigers - White Sox game. It just as easily could have been me and my grandfather. It was that comfortable. A kid he'd never met before that night, some punk who sold tickets in the Tigers front office and was running stats for him that night, he opened up to; he chatted with, like we were old buddies that had known each other 20 years. When the game ended, Harwell and I left the booth, still laughing uncontrollably. He patted me on my back, shook my hand and off I went. Off I went, with a memory forever etched into my head of that night. An 81-year old hall of fame broadcaster treated me like family for three hours. Turns out, Harwell is just as famous for his treatment of others as he is for his work on the mic.

Harwell has a very distinguishable voice. It's very soothing. He is one of the few broadcasters that you can listen to on the radio and fully enjoy the game. I know countless Detroiters who will watch a Tigers game on mute and turn up their radio to hear Harwell call the game. He's iconic in that regard. He is also one of a very few broadcasters who work for a team (and not a national channel), but is known throughout the country. The other of course, is Vin Scully (who actually did broadcast nationally for a time when I was a kid). The rest of the great baseball voices have passed on - Harry Caray, Phil Rizzuto, Jack Buck. Today's announcers don't get it. They try to make themselves a part of the game. That's not their job. Their job is to tell a story. They are there to describe the game to us and then stay out of the way and let us enjoy the game. But the arrogance of most of today's broadcasters gets in the way. The proverbial apple fell so far from Jack Buck's tree, that I often wonder if Joe Buck is adopted. I miss great announcing. I miss listening to a great voice tell a great story....without interjecting themselves into it. Harwell did that, masterfully.

Ernie Harwell is a great man, with a great passion for the game, a great voice to tell the story and always told the story in a great way. And his love of people is what made him a great man. I believe that God put him in the spotlight to give him the ability to touch thousands of people...myself included. Ask anyone living in the Detroit area and they will tell you - Ernie Harwell is Detroit Baseball. He spent 31 years covering Tigers baseball at the Corner of Michigan and Trumbull. He spent another three seasons with the team at Comerica Park, before retiring. All told, he spent 42 years broadcasting.

The tears I shed this morning were because ESPN's headline read: Hall of Famer Harwell has incurable cancer. He's 91 years old. He's led a great life. But it didn't make the news any less sad that a revered man like Harwell probably has a year or less to live and there's nothing he or the doctor's can do about it.

Harwell is a one of a kind gentleman. The Tigers once tried to put him out to pasture, but the fans revolted, and in time, the Tigers wisely brought him back. And now cancer is trying to take his life. I don't know if all the fans' voices will make a difference this time. But if this disease was curable simply by all the lives that he touched all banding together, then Harwell would beat this thing without missing a beat. Sadly, that's not the case. And sometime in the not too distant future, I will probably open and shed some more tears for a great man.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Trip Down Vegas Memory Lane...

I left the shed next to my framer's house with my masterpiece in my right hand. A framed up 1,000 piece puzzle of the Las Vegas Strip at night. And surrounding the puzzle was a $1 chip from every hotel on the strip. Anal and meticulous that I am, I had to ensure that the chips were in the correct order in which they sit on the strip. As I hung the piece over my TV in the living room, I got nostalgic. My last trip to Vegas was in March, 2008. I need to make another trip and soon. And this piece hanging in my living room will be a constant reminder.

My first trip to Vegas was for my 21st birthday. Maybe it was because it was preceded by a 3-day trip to the worst city on earth (Los Angeles), but the anticipation of landing at McCarren Airport can not be overstated. Since, my 21st birthday, I have made the requisite Vegas trips (although, sadly, I have never attended a Las Vegas bachelor party....yet. There is hope finally building for my little brother, and I am certain that's where we're headed). I have done the boys trip. I have done the family trip (yes, with my then-2 year old son). I have done the couples trip. I have run the gamut. And Vegas never disappoints. Even the trip on my 21st birthday when I was sick for a day and a half and lost a few hundred bucks (still, to this day, the only time I went to Vegas and came out a loser), we had a ton of fun.

Each of my Vegas excursions has left me with an unforgettable moment or 10. My first trip was well, my first trip. It was also the first time I ever realized that cocktail waitresses don't actually think you are as cute as they tell you that you are. This lesson has come in handy later in life in other establishments where women rely heavily on tips. That trip was also the trip where my underage brother won $1,000 at Keno. But since he was underage, I had to cash in his ticket. It was the only time that weekend I was actually ahead.

Each trip since, I have actually left Vegas having won money. But the memories and the famous one-liners that come from a Vegas trip are what stick with you. I will keep the authors of the following quotes anonymous, but they are all a reminder of the fun we had each time we went to Vegas...

"Pull your bets back, we're headed to Amen Corner." My 2003 trip. I won a lot of money that week. But one night, in a matter of about 2 hours, me and my buddies managed to lose about $300 each playing craps....and all because the 5 of us kept crapping out and losing everybody at the table money. We never quit, mind you. We just kept rolling 7s, killing everyone's winnings at the table, and made jokes about it. Why didn't we just leave the table???

"I thought you were up $1,800?"
"I was."
"So, how do you only have $800 left?"
"Strip club."
"Oh, you paid for a ----------"
"Then what did you get for $1,000?"
"We cuddled."

"We're gonna go have a 3some now." Ok, so obviously this didn't happen. But during my 2008 trip this line was uttered in an elevator by a girl who was with a woman and her husband, to a crowded elevator. The elevator's patrons stood silent in sheer shock at the comment. The husband was excited briefly, until he figured out that this wasn't actually going to happen.

Obviously, there are tons of other quotes and memories that stick in my head that I can't mention here. But, it just reminds me how much fun Las Vegas really is and how badly I miss it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to check Orbitz for flight costs from Ft. Lauderdale to Las Vegas!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bulldogs and Cowboys and Hokies....oh my!

The NCAA Football season begins in two days, and save for a couple of snoozers, opening weekend this year kicks off with a bang. Much like the NFL, the NCAA has expanded its opening weekend from a one-day event on a Saturday, to a Thursday - Monday weekend long extravaganza. Now, Friday and Sunday don't offer much beyond seeing how real Ole Miss is this year, and the battle for supremacy in Colorado (yawn), but Thursday, Saturday and Monday are filled with intrigue.

The college football season kicks off with the Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks heading north to play NC State. Not a huge game, but a lot of people look at South Carolina as a potential sleeper in the SEC East. If they struggle with NC State, don't look for them to be able to compete with the Gators and Bulldogs.

Thursday does feature a matchup of ranked teams. Oregon travels to Boise State in a very intriguing match up, as Boise State continues to try to prove that they, and other non-BCS schools are just as worthy of a National Title shot. (Let's not forget, the only Division I school to go undefeated last year was not the Florida Gators, but rather the University of Utah) Beating a ranked Oregon team, out of the Pac-10 would be just another step for schools like Boise State, Utah and BYU. And speaking of BYU...

BYU will get its shot in the spotlight on Saturday, as they take on defending Big 12 Champion and National Championship game loser, Oklahoma in a neutral-site game. The 20th ranked Cougars will try to stifle last year's best offense and Heisman Trophy winner, Sam Bradford. If this game gets into the 30s or higher, OU could make a mess of the Cougars.

Two other games on Saturday feature ranked teams going head to head. A great SEC-Big 12 Battle in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as the Georgia Bulldogs head west to take on Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant and the Oklahoma State Cowboys....the trendy sleeper pick in the Big 12. Georgia's defense will have to try and find a way to slow down OSU's high powered offense. What makes OSU dangerous is their vastly underrated defense, which gave Big 12 QBs, including Chase Daniel and Colt McCoy, fits last year.

In the game of the weekend, 5th ranked Alabama plays 7th ranked Virginia Tech in a battle of two teams who believe that they can get to the National Championship game. Both are veteran teams with veteran head coaches. But Va Tech has already been stung by injuries and I just don't think they are as good as their pre-season ranking, and I believe they will have a hard time keeping up with the athleticism of the Crimson Tide. I think 'Bama rolls the Hokies.

Other games of note on Saturday: Baylor plays at Wake Forest. If you get a chance, watch this game and pay close attention to Baylor Sophomore QB Robert Griffin. It wasn't until the 9th game of the season that then-Freshman Griffin finally threw his first interception of the season, against Missouri. He is poised for a breakout season. He's probably still a year away, but I believe he will be in NYC for the Heisman presentation following the 2010 season. Also Saturday, Missouri and Illinois play their Arch Rivalry game in St. Louis. Mizzou is coming off its most successful back to back seasons in school history, with consecutive 10-win seasons and a top-5 and top-20 finish, respectively. But, Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and John Mackey Award winner for best college Tight End, Chase Coffman are all gone from the offense. Can Blaine Gabbart (#4 High School QB in the country in 2007) take over the reigns along with outstanding RB Derrick Washington or is it back to the bottom of the Big 12 for Mizzou? Another game of interest on Saturday is the Citadel at North Carolina. Why is this game one I will be paying attention to? Not because I think UNC can be upset (or even that the Citadel can come within 40 points of the Tar Heels) but because UNC is my pick to win the ACC and go undefeated this year, which means they are my dark horse pick to compete for a National Championship. And Roy Williams and Tyler Hansborough aren't even involved.

I have two teams on upset alert on opening weekend. I don't think Wisconsin is going to be all that great this year and Northern Illinois is one of the better MAC teams. I think N. Illinois is going to give Wisconsin all they can handle and may even leave Madison with an upset win. And FAU, the boys from Boca Raton, Florida head into Big 12 country to take on the popular pick to win the Big 12 North, the 24th ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. It will be a sea of red up there in Lincoln, but the Huskers better be ready. Howard Schnellenberger beat the 'Huskers for the 1983 National Championship (albeit with the Miami Hurricanes) so he'll know what to expect and have his boys ready for a fight.

The top two teams in the country are also playing on Saturday.....well, sorta. The defending National Champion Gators and 2nd ranked Texas Longhorns get their first tests of the season (cough, cough). The Gators are 73-point favorites against Charleston Southern and Texas is "only" a 43-point favorite against Louisiana-Monroe. Apparently St. Mary's School for the Blind and the Little Sisters of the poor were already booked on Saturday. C'mon fellas, man up and play some real teams.

The long weekend concludes with the much-ballyhooed Miami-FSU rivalry on Monday Night Football. The 18th ranked Seminoles have the more veteran team and the more seasoned head coach (even if he has been much maligned lately). They also have the home field advantage this year. But the young Canes have the better athletes and if they can keep it close late, may have an opportunity for the upset. But if the Canes struggle early, look for their youth to show through and for FSU to take advantage. The Canes will need to protect QB Jacory Harris on offense while pressuring FSU QB Christian Ponder, in order to have a real chance.

However the first weekend shakes out, it promises to be an entertaining weekend and an unpredictable season.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

ESPN still doesn't get it...

Last year among a sea of backlash and talk of an "east coast bias", ESPN attempted to appease its viewers and sponsors by opening a studio in Los Angeles and telecasting their 10:00 pacific time Sportscenter, live from LA. Some of the anchors even joked on the air that this proved there was no East Coast bias on ESPN (which has been nicknamed the Everything Sox and Pinstripes Network - a pretty fitting moniker). ESPN has certainly done some wonderful things in it's more than 3 decades on the air. It has made sports more accessible to fans. It's spinoffs - ESPN the Magazine and are also wonderful mediums for fans to learn about sports. But, like with other things that become popular, ESPN has used its popularity to shove agendas down Americans' collective throats. If you asked 10 people what are the two most annoying sports stories going right now, I would venture to guess that 7 of those 10 people would say Brett Favre and Michael Vick. Yet, Sportscenter (and the dozens of other talking head shows that ESPN telecasts) not only tend to lead with these two stories on a daily basis, but we hear about everything they do. And nobody wants to hear it anymore.

ESPN claims that there is no East Coast Bias, and that they proved as much by broadcasting live from LA now. That's nice window dressing, but let's dig a little deeper. I pulled their TV schedule for the MLB game of the week this season - the game that they broadcast every Sunday night. There are 25 total games of the week - the game that is supposed to feature the most compelling story line. With 25 games, that means that there will be a total of 50 opportunities for teams to get featured. As it turns out, 18 of the 30 MLB teams will appear on Sunday Night Baseball this year. Out of those 18 teams, 8 of them play in the East, 6 in the mid west and 4 out west. Not a horrible imbalance. But it gets worse. The 4 West Coast teams are featured a total of 8 times. The 6 Mid West teams are featured 14 times. And the 8 East Coast teams are featured 28 times. That seems a little skewed. Additionally, ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball only features a west coast team playing another west coast team twice. By comparison, two mid west teams playing each other occurs 5 times and two east coast teams going head to head happens an astonishing 11 times (or 44% of all Sunday Night games feature two east coast teams playing each other). Also, the 28 times that any east coast team is featured on Sunday Night Baseball equates to 56% of the time, you are seeing an east coast team.

The Yankees and Red Sox is a nice rivalry. But as I said in a previous blog, it's hard to convince an intelligent fan that you are the best rivalry in baseball when there was a solid 15 year period that you couldn't sell out games against each other. Also, is it really a rivalry when one team had such dominance over the other for 86 years? A rivalry is when both teams win their fair share of the games, and when the fans show up out of pure hatred for the other team, regardless of win-loss records or who the media tells us is a great rivalry. The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is older and features a much more deep-seeded hatred. And the Giants-Dodgers rivalry? It is the oldest in all of baseball. It has spanned not one, but two coasts. The only reason the Dodgers even play in LA is because the Giants agreed to move to San Francisco and not Minneapolis in 1958. The Northern California- Southern California rivalry makes the rivalry between the cities of Boston and New York look like clam chowder. At a Giants-Dodgers game in 2005, a local San Francisco news team was interviewing fans gong into the ballpark. They stopped a woman in a Giants hat and asked her if she was a big Giants fan. She replied, "no. Not really. Actually, I hate baseball." The reporter was confused and asked her if she hated baseball why was she there. She quickly said, "Because I hate the Dodgers more." But do these things ever make ESPN? No. Instead, they shove the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry down our throats, much the way they do Favre and Vick. The Giants and Dodgers have yet to play each other on ESPN at all this season - on a Sunday Night game or any other day of the week. Part of this is because ESPN refuses to telecast any baseball games that start at 10:00 eastern time during the week. Meanwhile, the Yankees-Red Sox will appear on ESPN 6 times, including all 3 times they meet on a Sunday. Even the Cubs and Cardinals get 2 games on Sunday Night Baseball. Heck, the Braves and Philles get to renew their long standing rivalry (cough, cough) on three different Sunday Night games, including two times in a three week span. But no, there's no East Coast bias whatsoever.

This Sunday Night, ESPN could have televised a 72-57 team playing at a 70-59 team. Team B is trailing Team A there by 2 games in the Wild Card race. Instead, ESPN in its infinite wisdom will televise a team 74-52 playing a team 67-61. A team 8 games up in their division, playing a team currently sitting 4 1/2 out of the Wild Card race. And this is the second time in three weeks we will get to see the same two teams playing on Sunday Night Baseball. Why subject us to Phillies-Braves again, when the Wild Card's top two teams are going head to head (and if the Giants win on Saturday Night, they will be going for the tie on Sunday)?

ESPN may claim there is no East Coast Bias going on, but actions speak louder than words.