August 31, 2005

The Price is Wrong, Bitch

You could make a case that it is the greatest safeguard in all of sports – the non-guaranteed contract in the NFL.

Yesterday, just two years after signing him to a seven-year deal, the Falcons' front office
dropped its proverbial trousers and showed Peerless Price its collective, gaping, butt-crack. Sorry to be crass, but it's an impolite place, this National Football League. Quite simply, Peerless didn't produce (just 45 catches, 575 yards and 3 TD's in '04), so he's off the team. And most importantly – he's unable to collect the remaining money left on his $37.5 million deal (in MLB and the NBA, teams can release players but in just about every circumstance have to pay them the money owed; not so in the NFL).

For the most part, I am fully in support of this system. With so much money on the line, it makes sense that a team should be able to get rid of a player if he's not producing. But at the same time, you have to feel slightly bad for the guy who blows out his knee only to have his contract terminated a day later. In theory, I'm all for non-guaranteed contracts; I just find it a bit odd that the one sport in which they exist happens to be the most brutal. Many of these guys are risking injury on every single play to get their job done.

One positive about all of this, I suppose, is that the Falcons' decision to cut their enigmatic wideout created quite possibly the most memorable moment of the Peerless Price era. As Peerless walked towards his car to leave the Falcons' practice facility for the last time, he saw an Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer waiting near his car. Just before climbing into his car and driving away, he etched one single line on his Atlanta football epitaph:

"I hate y'all," he said.

My (mostly) sports-related thoughts of the day:

-In general I'm an avid supporter of wild conspiracy theories, but it sounds to me like Mark Buehrle is howling at the sun with his recent claim that
the Rangers are stealing signs from an office window above center field at Ameriquest Field in Texas. That's right – Buehrle is claiming the Rangers use lights to signal to batters what pitch is coming while they're at the plate, and apparently he's not the first person to make the accusation. However, it pretty well takes the assorted candies out of Buehrle's pinata when his own manager, Ozzie Guillen – seemingly the type of guy who likes to take up a cause here and there – essentially sprinted off moments after his guy took the first swing in a bar fight (is that enough metaphor for you in one sentence?) "The way Buehrle pitched yesterday, it seemed [the Rangers] didn't need signs," Guillen said. "Everything was right down the middle of the plate." I'm sure Buehrle was thrilled Ozzie came to his aid so enthusiastically.

-Last night Padres' pitcher Jake Peavy, recovering from surgery to remove his wisdom teeth and a cut to his non-pitching hand, threw 6 2/3 innings dosed up on four shots of novocaine. My question about this: Why is it within the rules to take novocaine before a game? Isn't this in many ways a performance-enhancing substance? If you've been following the talk about baseball's steroid scandal at all, presumably at some point you've heard it said that one of the key benefits of steroid use is the advantage it gives players in recovering from injury. When you get right down to it, how is getting shot up with novocaine so dramatically different?

-Do you think it has crossed the mind of Cowboys' backup QB Tony Romo to start up his own chain of steakhouses in an effort to put the tyrannical Tony Roma out of business?

-You know that soft drink commercial (I refuse to give it any publicity by naming which brand of soda it is or by linking to the ridiculous commercial's website) where that group of twenty-somethings is singing a song, which they presumably wrote about the soda, on top of a city rooftop, so filled with glee about holding said soda in their possession that they decided to climb on top of a building and have a sing-along? Sorry, but that kind of thing just doesn't happen among me and my friends.

-I believe I have reached a new low (at least I think it's a low) as a fantasy sports player. A guy I know recently offered me an undisclosed amount of money to do his fantasy football draft – which he couldn't attend – in his absence. The key was that he didn't want his friends to know he wasn't present at the draft, so I would have to be posing as him in an online draft amongst a group of 11 people I have never met. Thinking it over, I found this idea to be somewhat dubious from a moral standpoint, not to mention the fact that I had some prior social engagements on the night in question.

Needless to say, I accepted his offer almost immediately.

August 29, 2005

Something in the Air: a Weekend of Sport in the Windy City

Caught a jet plane to Chicago this past weekend, taking advantage of a rare Saturday and Sunday without so much as a single obligation. But don't think for a second that The OCC had it on snooze for 48 hours. On the contrary, while technically on vacation, I was hitting the streets – when not too busy lounging around – making sure to observe sports in the Windy City at every opportunity. Here’s what I saw:

-I think if there was a minor league circuit for competitive eating, I could definitely hold my own in single-A ball. I mean, I’m not going to be matching mouthfuls of seared calf brains with the great Kobayashi or anything (yes, he really does eat that), but pound-for-pound I know very few people who can throw down like me at the supper table. On Friday, at a Middle Eastern place in Chicago’s Old Town, I put away a mixed grill platter that would have made a saber-toothed tiger dry heave at first glance. Honestly, there must have been the equivalent poundage of two medium-sized steaks and a large burger atop that great mound of rice. I put it all away and was still looking longingly at the Boston Market across the street on the walk home.

-Were he so inclined (and for the record, he is not), the baseball fan in me could now die and at the very least feel reasonably content about it. In my mind, and most likely in many other baseball minds, there exists a clear Holy Trinity of still-standing baseball stadiums – three parks you simply have to visit if you’re a baseball fan, whether you like the team that plays there or not: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Before this weekend, I had two out of three in my ledger, but for whatever reason, during my 27 years of life – and two prior visits to Chicago – Wrigley Field had remained elusive. But that changed Saturday, when I made my long-awaited, triumphant debut at a park I had long dreamed of visiting. Now, my thoughts from Wrigley:

-I am perfectly aware that it was just the alignment of several key factors – seemingly perfect mid-day weather, a sold-out, surprisingly good-natured crowd around me and a cardboard container filled with a delicious smorgasbord of food that required liquid refreshment – but I am now officially endorsing
Old Style beer (though unfortunately I’m not getting paid to do so). Anyway, it's good stuff. Though I think in a different context it could taste a lot like every other crappy beer I’ve ever tasted.

-At one point in the game, I observed that I had a surprising number of connections to the players on the field for both the Cubs and the Marlins. This first occurred to me when Cubs’ catcher Michael Barrett was at the plate, reminding me of my most glorious direct sports connection: I played against him in high school. Back then, he was a slick-fielding shortstop at Atlanta’s Pace Academy. Looking down the foul line, I remembered that one of my friends once hung out with Marlins’ first baseman Carlos Delgado, as my friend’s friend is family friends with Jose Cruz Jr., who is friends with Delgado. Got that? Even more odd: the same friend of mine is starting a graduate-level creative writing program, and one of the approximately 12 students in her program is named – you guessed it – Carlos Delgado.

A couple other connections: rumor has it that the high-rise apartment building I was staying in for the weekend was also home to Cubs’ manager Dusty Baker and second baseman Todd Walker. And – get ready to have your mind blown – Marlins’ right fielder Juan Encarnacion shares a name with the doorman at my girlfriend’s old apartment building. Crazy, I know.

-In case you were wondering, Cubs fans do not like five-tool player Corey Patterson. In general I don’t usually have a lot of sympathy for extremely talented underachievers, but Patterson’s anguish seems almost palpable. Every at-bat is another audition – he got booed multiple times by the Wrigley faithful, who didn’t boo another Cubs player the entire day. And of course Patterson came up with 2 outs and the tying run in scoring position in the ninth. After swinging at a pitch over his head – almost as if he didn’t want to be up there – he rolled a routine grounder to first to end the game. “Go back to Iowa, Corey!” screamed one fan near me (Iowa is the location of the Cubs’ AAA affiliate). I doubt he’ll get demoted to the minor leagues again, but I wonder if Patterson will be playing in another city next year nonetheless.

-After the game, as the crowd filed out of its seats and towards the exit ramp, I was reminded that I wasn’t at Shea or Yankee Stadium when a man accidentally bumped into me and promptly said, “Sorry about that.” So disarmed was I by the man’s actions – and so trained am I to be on the defensive in such situations – that my response of “That’s okay” came out sounding much more harsh than I intended.

-On my way out of Wrigley Field, I spotted a wrought iron statue of
former Cubs’ broadcaster Harry Caray. Much like the famous statue of Michael Jordan outside the United Center (the same artist was at least partially involved in both), Harry is depicted doing what he did best – speaking into a microphone, just like Jordan is immortalized soaring for a signature one-handed dunk. It’s a fitting tribute to the voice of the Cubs for so many years…except, of course, for the bottom half of the statue, where, instead of the lower half of Harry Caray’s legs, the sculpture turns into a jumbled mass of metal with strange faces superimposed on its surface. I think these faces are supposed to somehow represent the adoring masses eating up every word Harry put out onto the airwaves, but in reality they look like a horde of angry demons, tortured souls doomed to spend eternity attached to Harry Caray’s nonexistent kneecaps.

-Noticed a number of people riding around on
these bikes – apparently called recumbent bicycles – during the weekend, and I have to say at least one of these people looked horribly uncomfortable doing so. Can anyone please explain the benefit of these things? (Actually, never mind. I'm not interested.)

-Shaking off warnings that its waters were polluted, I took a glorious dip in Lake Michigan on Sunday. Highly recommended to anyone visiting Chicago. That I have grown an 11th toe in the past 36 hours should be seen as pure coincidence.

-On Sunday morning I happened to catch “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” the episode on which Randy Moss admitted that he likes to puff a little hooch every now and then. Surprisingly though, that wasn’t the most memorable thing about the episode. There was
a piece about the father and son triathlon team of Dick and Rick Hoyt, Dick being past middle aged (now 65) and Rick, 43, unable since birth to control any part of his body except his head, which he uses to tap out letters on a machine and communicate. Dick competes in triathlons pushing (or pulling) his son Rick along with him, and somehow the shared grueling experience is the greatest thing about their lives. Might sound a bit hokey, but I assure you it was pretty incredible to see. Let’s just say the apartment I was seated in was in extreme need of a good solid vacuuming. Very, very dusty in there.

-Note to self: go see a game sometime at
Soldier Field. From the exterior, this is one of the coolest stadiums I’ve ever seen, an odd juxtaposition of the classic outer walls – complete with huge stone pillars – and a space-aged interior plopped down in the middle. Very interesting.

-Having heard the rumors about Dusty Baker and Todd Walker living in the apartment building I was staying in for the weekend, I was obviously on the lookout for them at every opportunity. But alas, as I packed my things and prepared to leave on Sunday evening, it looked like a sighting wasn’t going to happen. Exiting the elevator to the lobby for the last time on the way to the airport, someone stood in our way, waiting to board the elevator as we got off. Thinking nothing of it, I glanced at him as I walked out, and a moment later, it clicked. It was former D’Backs manager and current Cubs TV announcer Bob Brenly. Not a bad sighting, and especially strong considering that it happened essentially at the last possible moment.

All, I suppose, indicative of a larger trend: as a sports town, Chicago was anything but disappointing.

A couple other thoughts:

-There’s “gaunt,” there’s “sickly,” there’s “undiagnosed tapeworm” and then there’s
Dwight Gooden circa August 2005. Honestly, it looks like Dr. K hasn’t dined properly in months. Someone get this man a mixed grill platter.

-My latest ESP-aNnoyance is the new show called "ESPN Hollywood." I actually haven’t even seen this show yet and I still can’t stand it. The idea – to bring us into athletes’ celebrity lives – could be mildly appealing if it didn’t represent the latest instance of the Worldwide Leader putting yet another 30 minutes of sports programming that features no athletic endeavors whatsoever on its airwaves. If E! or MTV or whatever other cable network wants to do some goofy features on who Derek Jeter’s dating, that’s all good and well, but don’t package up some crap as “sport” just because it involves athletes.

August 25, 2005

One Penny, a Gallon of Milk, 500 Big Ones and a Six-Game Ban

All I can say is, I wish I had been there to see it. Last weekend when the Dodgers were playing the Marlins in Florida, Dodgers' pitcher (and former Marlin) Brad Penny offered a Marlins’ batboy 500 bones if he could finish off a gallon of milk in less than an hour. The batboy finished the milk in time, but violated one of the key conditions of the bet – he vomited all over the place. I don’t know about you, but to me this is just a hilarious scene to picture. Not so much the batboy puking forth a sickly stream of milky bile, though that is funny, but I have this funny image of Brad Penny buddying around – and placing similar bets with – batboys around the league. It is possible, I suppose, that Penny and this particular bat-handler were friends from Penny’s days in Florida, which is kind of odd and amusing in and of itself.

Of course, the story really gets ridiculous when you find out that the batboy has been handed a six-game suspension by the Marlins for his involvement in the aforementioned dare. Really now, this is just absurd. Can anyone in their right mind fault this kid for engaging in such behavior? Hell, when I was in high school, I once (actually, multiple times) had a contest with a friend of mine to see who could stuff more grapes in his own mouth (this, by the way, once ended quite similarly for me as did the milk incident for the batboy, but that’s another story for another time). The point is, in the grape contest, not only was there no money involved, but it wasn’t a major league baseball player goading me into participating. Honestly, what teenage baseball fan in his right mind is going to tell Brad Penny, “Thanks for the offer, Brad, but I’d rather not risk engaging in your dare – it could really end up getting me in a lot of trouble, and I value my position here with the Marlins.” Don't be silly.

I suppose the one positive of this kid getting a six-game suspension is that it highlights exactly how meaningless the current punishment is for a first-time steroid offender. That’s right – for jamming a needle filled with steroids into your ass, you get 10 games, just four more than our intrepid milk-chugger got for taking a dare from a guy he clearly idolizes. As Penny told the Miami Herald, “It’s kind of ridiculous that you get a 10-game suspension for steroids and a six-game suspension for milk.”

Not sure I could have phrased it better myself, though I think Penny meant his comment to reflect the unduly harsh nature of the Marlins’ punishment more than to have it be an indictment of baseball’s current punishment for steroid offenses. Either way you look at it, the comment speaks volumes.

Or I suppose, in this case, gallons.

August 23, 2005

The Big 4-7

There is no other way to put it – this, the 23rd of August, is a momentous day. It is the 47th birthday of ageless Brave and remarkable baseball relic Julio Franco.

Quite frankly, if you haven’t grown to love or at least appreciate Julio on some level over the past few years, you have issues. This season, his 21st in the major leagues, Papa Franco has hit .299 with 9 homers and 40 RBI’s in just 187 at-bats for the Atlanta ballclub while using – and frequently flinging into the stands at the end of his swing, to many fans’ peril – one of the largest bats in the league. Better yet, most observers actually thinks he’s older than his reported age of 47 because of dicey birth records in his native Dominican Republic, and he wants to play into his 50’s. Quite simply, you gotta love him. Feliz cumpleaños, Julio.

Actually, I should be careful with the birthday wishes – apparently Julio isn’t the world’s biggest fan of such holidays. In an article appearing in today’s AJC, he had this to say when asked about his 47th:

“Just another day. Cakes? I don’t eat cake. I don’t celebrate birthdays. Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the Christmas tree at Christmas time...All man-made holidays.”

He continued, “I don’t need to wait for someone to tell me it’s a holiday or a day to eat turkey; I eat turkey almost every day.”

You tell ‘em, Julio! “I don’t need to wait for someone to tell me it’s a holiday or a day to eat turkey” – classic. Honestly, this is Julio’s finest work since he responded to steroid allegations from former Pirates’ outfielder Andy Van Slyke by saying, “Next time you talk to [Van Slyke], tell him the steroid I’m on is Jesus of Nazareth.”

Whatever your religion (or lack thereof) may be, you have to admit – this is pure brilliance. Here’s hoping Julio is still running his mouth, accidentally chucking his bat into the stands and lacing line drives to right field at age 50.

Assuming he’s not actually there already.


A couple other things on my mind:

-In response to – well, my own ongoing and frequent irritation with the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports," I’ve decided to start up a regular feature on the site I will be calling ESP-aNoyance, where I and we collectively will vent on those things that most irritate us about that network we love to hate but as passionate sports fans really have no choice but to watch. Today’s gripe: the gradual but steady changing over of virtually every important article on to requiring an ESPN Insider membership, which costs $6.95 a month or $39.95 a year. This – for lack of an intelligent way of putting it (because it’s really not necessary) – is crap. It’s one thing to make some of the premium content on a site require a membership, but can’t you see where this is going? Recently, all of Peter Gammons’ columns became Insider access only; soon, all of your favorite writers – and as an added insult, many of the ones you hate – will require a pay subscription. Making matters worse, the Insider subscription comes with a free, and essentially mandatory, subscription to the dreadful ESPN The Magazine, which I am soon going to ask to start paying me rent, as the behemoth magazines are essentially taking over my apartment with their insane and inexplicably large pages. Why must they make the pages abnormally sized? Sometimes (and by "sometimes," I mean "often"), ESPN tries to reinvent its own wheel to a crippling fault.

-I know what you’re up to, Sports Illustrated. Don’t think you’re fooling me for a second. Putting Braves’ rookie outfielder Jeff Francoeur on your cover just in time for his long-overdue slump (foreshadowed by his 1 walk and 27 strikeouts thus far) ensuring that the myth of the SI Cover Jinx lives on. Well I for one will not be buying the whole “cover jinx” thing when Francoeur hits a skid, and frankly I don’t appreciate you trying to pull this nonsense over on us.

Thank you and good day.

August 22, 2005

Guten Morgan? ESPN's Baseball Joe Under Review

Perhaps I was paying extra attention because my hometown Braves were playing in ESPN's Sunday night game of the week, or maybe I was just feeling a wee bit salty about the weekend nearing an abrupt end. Whatever the reason, I was in the mood to scrutinize during Sunday evening’s national baseball telecast, and the subject of my unforgiving surveillance was Hall of Famer and Emmy award-winning analyst Joe Morgan.

I've been listening to Joe Morgan call games on ESPN for nearly as long as I can remember. To say I don’t like his style would be too harsh, but it has certainly struck me on frequent occasions that the man is well-versed in the practice of spouting complete nonsense. Tonight, I decided to listen closely and write some of it down. Here’s what I heard:

-In the bottom of the first inning, shortly after soft-tossing Padres’ righthander Brian Lawrence went to work, play-by-play man Jon Miller commented on the underwhelming speed of Lawrence’s fastball, which was hitting just 80 on the radar gun in the early going. The moment Miller made his comment, Morgan immediately – and somewhat indignantly – declared that the pitch was not a fastball. But to my eye – trained, I assure you, over hundreds of thousands of pitches seen on TV over the years – Miller appeared to be right. The pitches looked like fastballs, just very slow ones. Not that I think I know more than Joe Morgan about baseball, but I do think he was overanalyzing here just to have something to say. Throughout the early part of the game, most of Lawrence’s fastest pitches were in the low 80’s.

-After Lawrence retired the Braves 1-2-3 in the first, Morgan commented that the Padres pitcher was getting lots of easy outs. Great insight, just not exactly accurate. The three outs he recorded in that inning: a screaming line drive to second by Rafael Furcal, a hard grounder up the middle by Marcus Giles, and a liner to right by Chipper Jones.

-At another point early in the game, when Braves’ pitcher John Smoltz hit 94 mph on the gun with an outside fastball, Morgan commented that Smoltz had reached back for a little extra, and that the pitch was the best fastball he had thrown all night. Tough to know what Morgan was basing that comment on, considering that Smoltz had already hit 94 on several occasions prior to that pitch. And it’s not like the pitch drew a swing and a miss or anything; the batter took it for a ball outside.

-During Andruw Jones’ first at-bat, Morgan decided to share that he had been reading some interesting comments about Jones recently. But when it came time to say where he had read them, he could only utter, “In the Journal…the Constitution…” at which point Miller jumped in and bailed him out, completing the incoherent sentence by saying, “The Atlanta paper” (Atlanta’s newspaper is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). Morgan replied, “Yeah.”

-When Braves’ rookie right fielder Jeff Francoeur – who somewhat famously had yet to draw a walk entering last night’s game – grounded into a double play on the first pitch he saw, Morgan commented, “Well, he wasn’t gonna walk that at-bat.” Genius.

-In the top of the third, Padres’ center fielder Dave Roberts was called out on batter’s interference for failing to run inside the designated box because Smoltz made a play on Roberts’ bunt attempt and Roberts was in the way of the throw. Morgan explained, “Because Smoltz made a play and hit [Roberts], that’s why they called him out.” However, it was blatantly clear in real time, and on the slow-motion replay, that Smoltz had in fact not so much as grazed Roberts with the throw.

-With the game in the bottom of the fourth, and the clock next to the TV reading 8:59, I stepped away from the game to watch the series finale of “Six Feet Under,” during which my living room became inexplicably dusty on more than one occasion. Following that cheerful hour and 15 minutes, I got roped into “Entourage,” a necessary light-hearted follow-up to keep myself from attempting to leap headlong out the window after S.F.U. While I was away from the baseball game – during which time I undoubtedly missed a whole slew of Morgan gems – I started to think that perhaps I was being a bit too harsh on old Joe. There was a moment early in the game when Miller and Morgan were interviewing Braves’ GM John Schuerholz, and they all three appeared on camera. Morgan was looking so very serious, and scribbling some notes on a piece of paper. And he had on such a nice suit. At that moment, it struck me: This man takes his job incredibly seriously. He just happens to say dumb things sometimes (maybe because he's trying too hard to leave his mark on the game?) On some level, I can understand someone in his situation uttering complete garbage on occasion – I’m sure if you put me in front of a microphone for that long, I’d say some pretty ridiculous things. (Come to think of it, if you put me in front of a mike I’d probably only need about five minutes to cease making sense, but that's just how I roll.)

Now I digress. Following my small-but-meaningful revelation, I returned to the game at 10:42 – the Braves now leading 6-2 in the top of the ninth – thinking that maybe Joe Morgan wasn’t so bad.

The feeling didn't last. With one out left in the game and the Braves on the verge of finishing a dramatic victory spurred by a late-inning comeback, Morgan decided to heighten the excitement for the game’s penultimate pitches by reporting that he had been in San Antonio last night for the wedding of some friends. “I want to wish Jack and Alma Carroll a happy…marital bliss,” he said.

At that precise moment, bliss seemed woefully far away.

August 19, 2005

Fiending for Headlines

To us residents of Sports Land – and in particular the non-baseball enthusiasts among us – this may be the most desolate point on our calendar. Baseball pennant races are going strong, but 120 games into the schedule one's focus understandably wanes. Basketball is a blip, hockey – oh, wait, no one cares about that sport – and we’re so desperate for football to come that we’ve been talking about it for about six weeks now even though Week 1 is still almost three weeks away.

The simple fact is, it’s a boring time of year to be a sports fan. It’s the very reason I recently vaulted a review of “Wedding Crashers” to the top of my list of priorities for things to write about on this site. It is exactly because of this boredom that we’re forced to digest the grueling melodrama of the Terrell Owens saga in painstakingly frequent but terribly unsatisfying portions.

And now, at this moment when motivation to consume sports news seems to have hit its annual low, fittingly comes a tale of that most notoriously energy-sapping, drive-spoiling of substances.

Yes friends, that’s right – today we’ve been treated to a true revelation: Randy Moss has admitted to smoking marijuana during his NFL career.

I can think of no better way to summarize my feelings towards this news than to quote Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker: “WELL LA-DEE-FRICKIN’-DAH!”

Honestly, does anyone out there care about this? Did any among you bolt instinctively upright in your seat, awakening for a moment from your semi-comatose soak in a pile of your own drool when you came across this headline? Me neither. It just doesn’t seem that noteworthy or alarming, especially considering that Moss has been caught for marijuana use before in both college and during his NFL career.

The only thing about this story I find even remotely amusing is that Moss’ agent, Dante DiTrapano, is trying to accuse HBO – where the Moss interview including the aforementioned ganja comments is set to air Tuesday – of intentionally damaging Moss’ career, claiming that the cable network took his statements out of context and that his comments were meant to discuss marijuana use in the past. This, to me, is hilarious (or maybe just seems that way because there isn’t much of anything else to get worked-up about). It seems pretty clear to me at this point that Moss’ reputation is pretty nicely tarnished already – see, for instance, giving a traffic officer a love tap with his SUV (reportedly pushing her halfway down the street and knocking her to the ground) in 2002 – and it’s nothing an admission of weed-smoking is going to change one bit.

So to you, Dante, in the spirit of these most lethargic of days and particularly the subject matter (or substance) at hand, I only have one thing to say:

Dude, just relax.

August 17, 2005

He Who Must Not Be Named

I can’t help but think that chiming in on this topic is about as constructive as lobbing a thermos full of kerosene into a raging brushfire, but I have to speak up with my thoughts on the Terrell Owens situation nonetheless, quite simply because I can’t take it any longer.

My main question is why. Why are we wasting so much time on this saga? Why must I flip on SportsCenter (seemingly less-watchable every day, by the way) to see that T.O. is the lead story? Why must I go to the Worldwide Leader’s website – my primary source for important sports headlines, quite simply because there isn’t significant competition – and see the latest on the Owens situation, today’s story being that he reported to training camp, emblazoned on the front page?

Honestly, it’s just not that compelling of a story. Basically, this guy is an incredibly talented receiver who is a notoriously bad teammate and by most accounts just an all-around bad guy who is whining because he thinks he’s underpaid. What’s interesting about that? Who do you sympathize with in this story, other than Owens’ millionaire teammates who he’s pissing off with his ridiculous behavior? What outcome – other than T.O. being released by the fed-up Eagles, which isn’t going to happen – can you root for?

The fact is, this is not a good story because Terrell Owens isn’t a worthy villain. You know how in some movies it’s just too easy to hate a character – when the writers and director try so hard to make him a villain that every scene he has in the movie is just completely unpleasant? That’s what this story is like right now. Because let’s face it – T.O.’s only tangibly redeeming quality is his ability to perform on the football field. And this is the preseason, so there’s not exactly a lot of that going on. It’s just plain irritating, and I wish sportswriters across the country would just stop giving this clown attention so he’d shut his mouth (which he would never do anyway, but at least they could stop directly enabling it).

But look at me – now I’m doing exactly what I didn’t want to do. I’ve gotten all fired up about this thing and wasted my energy on it, and now I’m part of the problem. I feel like the guy who turns around and scolds someone in a movie theater to be quiet, but in the process ends up being louder than the other talker was being in the first place. Great.

A few other thoughts on my mind on this mid-August Wednesday:

-Looks like the much-anticipated Joe Johnson to the Hawks trade could go through later this week now that NBA Commish David Stern has approved the Hawks’ ownership group’s efforts to oust resident buzzkill Steve Belkin as the team’s governor (thereby removing Belkin’s right to have the final say on all of the team’s trades, which is what was holding up the Johnson deal in the first place). All merits and flaws of the deal aside, I have to say I’m kind of surprised that Stern stepped in and agreed to pave the way for the other owners to oust Belkin. I kind of thought the Commish would take the tack of “This is your problem, you pathetic children. Work it out amongst yourselves.” But it appears Stern must have been so eager to put an end to the embarrassing bickering among the ownership group that he decided to take control of the situation. That’s the only logical guess I can come up with.

-SI just put out its All-25-and-Under baseball squad, and I’m sorry for being a poopy-pants, but I just don’t believe that Albert Pujols is 25 years old.

-File this under “Remarkable and Underappreciated Feats of Athleticism and Coordination in Everyday Life”: Heading across 125th street on my way to the subway after work today I saw a woman breast-feeding her rather sizable infant while walking – at a fairly brisk pace, mind you – down the crowded sidewalk.

August 15, 2005

Crash and Burn

Gotta take a brief break from the world of sport to discuss my most recent cinema-going experience. After twice being rebuffed by sold out crowds on opening weekend several weeks back, I finally caught “Wedding Crashers” on Friday night.

Before I comment on this, let me say that like most juvenile-minded men of my generation, I am an enthusiastic follower of this genre of film. And by “this genre of film,” I mean “basically any movie featuring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, or better yet – both.” I’ll readily acknowledge that both actors have been in some severe duds – Wilson, for example, was one of the key players in “
The Haunting,” one of three movies I’ve walked out of in my life (the other two, in case you were wondering, were “King Ralph” and “City Slickers 2”). Vince Vaughn’s lowest point, for the record – though I can’t say for certain because there have been a few – may have been “Made.” But their blatant failures aside, I celebrate the majority of both actors’ catalogues, and I’m really not that harsh of a critic – I happen to think “Starsky and Hutch” was more or less hilarious, though I know there are many of you out there who would disagree.

So it goes without saying that after having waited several weeks to see it and hearing more or less positive reviews from my friends (though some said it was too long – more on that in a bit), I was very much looking forward to seeing “Wedding Crashers.”

And it disappoints me greatly to say that I pretty much hated it.

Before you get all fired up, lovers of this film, let me say this: I thought Vince Vaughn, though not at the level of Trent from “Swingers,” was fantastic, and essentially saved the movie. But don’t confuse one man’s valiant efforts with good quality comedy. If Vince Vaughn doesn’t ad-lib about 30 hilarious lines, “Wedding Crashers” is one of the worst movies ever. And I’ll tell you why right now:

-I mentioned that some friends had warned me that the movie was too long. This is truly a cruel understatement. The movie’s runtime is 1 hour, 59 minutes, and I feel pretty confident that you could cut out at least 40 minutes of that. The problem – other than the fact that novice director David Dobkin clearly doesn’t believe in editing – is that much of the movie is sentimental slop. I understand that these movies have to contain a love interest to keep its more refined (read: sappy) audience members interested, but this movie took that notion to absurdly embarrassing heights. Essentially the entire second half of the movie, which takes place at Christopher Walken’s palacial waterside manor, is a crummy spinoff of “Meet the Parents” with really only one memorable scene (in which Vince Vaughn is pleasured against his will while sitting at the dinner table). The rest of the movie’s second half involves a toned-down, cheesy and seemingly somewhat dazed Owen Wilson chasing the woman he’s fallen in love with, and it’s just not funny. Usually I’m hoping these movies will never end, but for the final 30 minutes of the movie I was praying they would just cut it short. Why didn’t Todd Phillips direct this movie?

-On the subject of Owen Wilson, I’m pretty convinced he was doped out of his mind during the filming of this movie. Not that I think that is anything close to a groundbreaking revelation, but I find it noteworthy because Wilson wasn’t doped up in a good way – see Chevy Chase in “Caddyshack” – he was acting, and in many scenes speaking, like a man on a strict regiment of sedatives. Even worse, the majority of his lines sounded canned, and I can definitely count the number of times he made me laugh audibly on one hand.

-But I don’t think that’s entirely his fault. I don’t profess to be a screenwriting expert, but this was one of the most poorly-written movies I’ve come across. I’ve already mentioned this once, but it bears repeating: if Vince Vaughn doesn’t ad-lib a whole host of funny lines, this movie is not worth watching at all. And for the record, I’m only guessing that Vince was ad-libbing most of his good lines. I really have no concrete proof that he was, except that there were so many lines in the movie that completely airballed (like the gem “Please don't take a turn to negative town” – if you’ve seen the movie, you know the one I’m talking about), you would just hope that the movie’s best material is a credit to the comedians, because its worst lines are an embarrassment to everyone involved.

-The last point I’d like to make is that the title of this movie is actually quite misleading. The only truly concentrated wedding crashing that goes on is actually glossed over in unsatisfying montage form at the movie’s beginning. Sure, there’s some funny stuff in that 10 or 15 minutes of montage footage, but I thought this movie was going to be about a couple of dudes who go to a whole bunch of weddings, generally act outrageous and get themselves into absurd situations while uttering inspired pick-up lines like the rare Wilson gem shown on some of the previews: “You know how they say we only use 10 percent of our brains? I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts.” The point is, this movie doesn’t need to be about anything at all, other than wedding crashing. There doesn’t need to be a plot. In fact, it might be better if there wasn’t a plot. But the sad reality is, this movie isn’t so much about the actual crashing of weddings as it is about a couple of guys who happen to have crashed some weddings (which we learn from an unfulfilling montage) and end up at a palacial waterfront manor for a few days during which time – Vince Vaughn’s masterful one-liners aside – they basically just act like a couple of lovestruck, sappy goobers.

Ultimately, “Wedding Crashers” didn’t need to do much for me to like it, but it did the one thing it couldn’t do – it sold out the genre. This was supposed to be a wildly hilarious ride with vile, predictable yet undeniably irresistable humor, tempered only by the necessary but not overbearing evil of a love interest to keep certain members of the audience interested. The problem is, that love interest intruded on the movie's sensibilities – this was not predominantly a care-free ride with a couple of wreckless maniacs, this was a pair of should-have-been wreckless maniacs held frustratingly in check by a tale that was equal parts wild ride and infuriatingly uncompelling love story. Two sworn enemies traveling in completely different directions.

The definition of a failed marriage.

August 12, 2005

That Hurts

The worst sports-related injury I’ve ever suffered took place about 10 years ago, when on a rainy night I tried to come to a stop on my backyard basketball court and ended up losing my footing and skidding legs first into a wall made of rock and concrete. My right shin hit the wall --which had a fairly jagged surface -- and I ended up with a nice little cut. I went inside to get a band aid with the intentions of finishing my game of hoops, but when my parents saw my leg they turned an odd shade of green and suggested we go see a doctor. It being night time, we decided to consult with a family doctor friend who lived nearby. Upon looking at my leg, he immediately said we would need to go to the emergency room. “That white stuff you can see there is fat,” he said.

So, I ended up with 10 stitches, one of which I later had to remove myself with a pair of scissors and tweezers because the person in the emergency room failed to see it when I had them taken out (I went to Ireland on a school trip the day after the stitches were removed, and instead of having the ordeal of seeing a doctor in Europe, I decided to perform the “surgery” myself).

I bring this story up in part because I wanted to gross you out by talking about how I once could see fat coming out of a wound in my leg, but also to illustrate that on a personal level – and I imagine for many of you it’s the same way – the sports-related injuries we recreational athletes suffer from are small potatoes. After yesterday’s brutal collision between Mets outfielders Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran, which left Cameron with multiple facial fractures, a broken nose and a concussion -- one of the most cringe-worthy sports injuries I can remember seeing in a while -- I got to thinking: What are the worst sports-related injuries of all time? Well, I decided to put together a list. As a means of narrowing things down, I’ve decided to stick to injuries that I actually saw happen or have seen on video. Here’s my top five:

5) Tom Browning’s broken arm in 1994. There have been a number of pitchers over the years who have snapped their arms in the process of delivering a pitch – Dave Dravecky, Tony Saunders and more recently Braves’ reliever Jay Powell, to name a few – but I can think of none more brutal than Browning’s. Though I haven’t seen the footage in a long time, I still can picture the sound of the snap, which I admit may have become worse in my mind's recollection of it than it actually was. One thing I know I haven’t embellished is the sight of Browning crumpling to the ground moments later.

4) Bryce Florie taking a line drive to the face in September 2000. Often the first thing you think of with a sports injury is a collision with another player or a break caused by some sort of awkward impact with the playing surface. It’s easy to forget that in baseball in particular there are all sorts of equipment-related injuries. Perhaps it’s because it was relatively recent, but I can’t think of any baseball-on-player impact more devastating than this one.

3) Braves’ catcher Greg Olson getting plowed over at home plate by Ken Caminiti at Fulton County Stadium in 1992. Okay, so this is not anywhere close to the worst injury on this list, but I include it because I was in attendance at the game. This also represents one of the first (and to date, sadly quite few) TV appearances in my lifetime. In the aftermath of the collision, a TBS camera captured a 14-year-old OCC rubbing fake tears out of his eyes and then pointing downward towards the field where Olson was injured. Can anyone get me footage of this?

2) Moises Alou getting his spikes caught in the turf at Busch Stadium in 1993. In my opinion, this may be the most difficult sports injury to watch on replay that I can think of. Honestly, watching this makes me sick, and I don’t know what else to say about it.

With that said, number one has to go to...

1) Napoleon McCallum’s leg injury in 1994. With apologies to Joe Theismann and everyone else whose leg has been annihilated on the football field, McCallum’s injury is the worst I’ve seen (and I was watching on TV when it happened). When Moises Alou got his spikes caught in the turf, his leg snapped sideways. McCallum’s leg got bent straight back from the force of a pile of players landing on it. The net result: a dislocated knee, three torn ligaments, calf and hamstring muscles ripped from the bone as well as nerve and artery damage. Doctors were worried they would have to amputate, and I even heard in an interview with McCallum that the injury was so severe it could have been fatal.

Makes 10 stitches seem kind of lame.

August 10, 2005

Leap of Faith

You've probably heard the news by now -- last night at Yankee Stadium some sauced-up youth made the completely assanine decision to leap from the upper deck of the stands onto the net behind home plate. As absurd of a maneuver as this is, I am ashamed to admit that I can actually identify with the mentality behind it. You see, as a 13-year-old junior high student, I once decided -- essentially on a whim -- to leap off the front step of my school bus as it approached my house in the 10-15 mph range. Why did I think this would be a good idea? I'm not sure -- to be honest, I don't know that I thought it out that much. Our bus driver used to let us stand on the front steps with the door open as she approached our houses, and I basically spent a couple of days thinking about the possibility of doing it until one day, before I knew what was happening, I was soaring through the air. I was doing it!

The joy was short-lived. I hit the pavement and my legs were swept out from under me as though done by some great ninja from a mythical tale. My entire body hit the pavement sideways with great force, my left shoulder bearing the brunt of the impact and producing a scar I bear to this day.

As I lay there in shame, disgrace and embarassment -- I will never forget this -- an older high school student by the name of Marc Bates stuck his head out the window and called out as the bus drove away a one-word damnation that pretty much summed everything up: "Dumbass." As the bus faded out of sight, I think I heard the driver cackling.

I bring up what happened to me so many years ago I suppose as a show of solidarity for our intrepid friend who made that incredible leap last night at Yankee Stadium. Though as I think about it, when I made my own dangerous and ill-advised jump, I was 13 -- this guy last night was 18, young but theoretically old enough to know better than to jump out of a stadium's upper deck. And furthermore, that's just it -- my jump was from a moving bus, but I was only about two feet off the ground. This guy jumped out of the upper deck of a major stadium.

I didn't want it to come to this, but I'm pretty sure there's only one thing to say:


August 08, 2005

Breaking Out the Tool Kit

A friend of mine recently posed an interesting question to me -- who are the worst five-tool players in baseball? To the uninformed, a five-tool player is one who can hit for average, hit for power, field, throw and run -- specifically to steal bases. The worst five-tool players, of course, are ones who have the ability to theoretically excel in all five aforementioned facets but in reality just kind of suck. As it turns out, my friend, lacking one of the most important "tools" of all (a good memory), was unable to recall the majority of the players he had chosen to fill out his list. As a way of proving that I'm a complete player, I'm going to finish it for him. Without further ado, I present the ten worst five-tool players in baseball:

10) Gerald Williams, Mets -- One of the two players that my friend recalls from his list, "Ice" has shown it all at times during his career. A career-high 21 jacks in 2000, 23 steals in 1997, a .305 average in '98. And you can't front on his arm either -- 8 outfield assists in '97. The problem is, he just hasn't really ever put together one great year, and through his 13 seasons entering 2005, he was a career .255 hitter.

9) Gabe Kapler, Red Sox -- Perhaps the most impressive physical specimen on this list, Kapler is built like a fitness-obsessed sasquatch. Honestly, the man is a beast. And in 2001, he was showing signs of putting it all together (17 homers, 23 steals), but he hit just 12 homers total in the three seasons that followed, and only recently returned to the big leagues after being exiled in Japan.

8) Terrence Long, Royals -- The first of a number of guys on this list who make me want to vomit because of their mediocrity, Long actually showed quite a bit of promise early in his career, most notably a .288, 18 HR, 80 rbi season in 2000. And though he's never stolen more than 9 bases in any of his big league seasons, he once stole as many as 32 in the minors. Plenty of promise, but he's basically gotten worse every year since 2000.

7) Michael Tucker, Giants -- Consistently infuriating in his ability to flash a little bit of power (never less than 12 or more than 15 homers in a full season) and a career-high of 23 steals. Statistically he's actually been a decent player, but someone always gives him way too many AB's every year, and for a guy who was built up to be as fast or faster than Kenny Lofton back in '97 when both played for the Braves, I expected a bit more out of Tucker than this.

6) Ricky Ledee, Dodgers -- Yet another brilliant hype-job by the Yankee Machine, Ledee was supposed to be all that when he first came up with the Yanks. Personally, I just remember being completely overwhelmed by his cheese 'stache -- he looked like that kid from your high school who had a half moustache by age 13 and refused to shave it even though it made grown men scream. Ledee has shown power and speed at times (career highs of 13 homers and 13 steals in 2000), but for the most part, he -- like Long and Tucker -- has just been a glorified role player.

5) Marlon Byrd, Nationals -- Yet another guy with good power and speed on paper, but unlike many other guys on this list, Byrd never really even reached anything resembling a peak. And somehow, he still managed to bottom. In over 150 AB's between Philly and Washington this year, he hit nary a single dinger. Now he's trying to rediscover his power stroke in the minors.

4) Travis Lee, Devil Rays -- Because we needed an infielder on this list (though most players discussed as "five-tool players" are outfielders because of the throwing factor), and because when you get right down to it Lee might be the biggest disappointment on this list so far. When he first came up he had great power, an unbelievable glove (which he still has), and some speed -- 17 steals in 1999. But like the rest of these guys, he's basically been on a slow decline throughout his career.

3) Gary Matthews Jr., Rangers -- The other player that my friend was able to recall from his list of rotten five-tool players, "Little Sarge" is in many ways the quintessential crummy five-tool player. Watch this guy for a game or two at a time and he will look awesome -- swiping bases, hitting bombs with a sweet lefty swing, running down balls in the gap -- but the simple fact is, something you can't quite pinpoint is missing. Entering 2005, he was a career .247 hitter.

2) Juan Encarnacion, Marlins -- Clearly the best player mentioned so far in terms of statistical production, Encarnacion has had some big years, most notably a 24 HR, 85-rbi, 21-steal campaign in 2002. And unlike some of the guys on this list who are really technically four-tool players because they can't throw, Encarnacion has a cannon. But I think there's a reason this guy is always getting traded or is the subject of trade rumors. Word has it he destroys bad pitching but is somewhat helpless against the league's better arms.

1) Corey Patterson, Cubs -- I, and needless to say, Corey are both shocked to see that it's come to this. His obvious flaws aside (inability to throw or hit for average -- and let's face it, the first things we look at with five-tool guys are homers and steals anyways), Patterson looked like a rising power and speed threat coming into this year. But after hitting 24 homers and swiping 32 bases in 2004 (along with 8 outfield assists, though that's probably more a function of disrespect from baserunners than anything else), he's been downright gruesome this year, putting 11 HR's and 12 steals on the board but hitting only .232 before earning perhaps the season's most stunning demotion to Triple-A. Word has it he may be back on the Cubbies soon, but I wonder if he'll ever be any better than he was at his early peak in 2004. My guess is, like basically every player on this list, we've already seen -- and been simultaneously teased, wowed and fooled by -- the best they have to offer.

August 07, 2005

Citizen for a Day

I was among the 35,017 in attendance at Sunday's Brewers-Phillies game in Philly. Not only did my first career visit to Citizens Bank Park move me into double digits in career baseball stadiums visited (including the now vacant Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and Stade Olympique in Montreal), but it allowed me to observe, among other things, one of the most unusual creatures in all of sport: The Philadelphia Fan. The game itself was a sleepy 2-0 Brewers win with a slow-motion feel befitting a hot summer Sunday afternoon, but I found plenty to entertain myself during my three hours at Citizens Bank Park nonetheless. My observations:

-I've only been to 10 professional ballparks in my day, but I feel pretty comfortable extrapolating to say that the urinals at Citizens Bank Park are the worst in Major League Baseball and arguably the most disgraceful on the entire planet. I've got no problem with it when served on a bun with onions and hot peppers, but honestly, I haven't been traumatically exposed to so much sausage in one place at one time since "The Crying Game." Seriously, would it have killed them to build up any kind of side barrier on these urinals? Shielding with the off-hand can only protect so much. I basically felt like I was dropping trow and mictorating against a bare wall whilst a number of co-conspirators looked on. Not the best of times.

-I have to say, my overriding impression of the Philly baseball fans was not what I was expecting. Though there were a few rabid sorts in the bleachers (more on that in a bit), for the most part this may have been the quietest big baseball crowd I've ever seen. To illustrate the silence, at one point in the game, a guy sitting a good 12-15 rows behind me (I was in the tenth row near the right field foul pole) started calling out to Phillies right fielder Bobby Abreu. The guy wasn't even yelling particularly loudly, but Bobby immediately knew someone was calling his name. Within about 10 seconds of the guy starting to yell, Abreu turned and gave a casual wave. No way he would have heard this guy at either of the New York ballparks. Hell, he probably wouldn't have heard him at notoriously laid-back Turner Field. But that's just how quiet it was in the park. The odd thing is, it's not like the place was empty (paid attendance was over 35,000, as I said), and furthermore, the fans that were out were repping Phillies gear in a big way. They just weren't making any noise, and didn't make any noise until the 8th and 9th innings when the Phillies brought the tying run to the plate. Of course it didn't help that the Phillies hit like dung all day, but still, there was something odd about how dead this crowd was.

-And speaking of odd, why was my friend Ben wearing blue jeans in 90-degree heat? Talk about perplexing.

-Seeing Brewers' closer Derrick Turnbow take the mound reminded me for the thousandth time that this guy may have the best head of hair in all of baseball. Honestly, the man looks like he hasn't had a proper shearing in years, if ever. Also adding to his charm is the fact that he has the general appearance of a guy the Brewers found rummaging around in the dumpster behind the stadium muttering to himself.
This picture may not quite do his odd appearance justice, but it gives you a sense.

-Good to see that Yankee-hating is alive and well in Philly. Saw one fan sporting an "ARod Slaps Balls" t-shirt. Nice.

-For all my confusion and disappointment at the reserved, almost stoic nature of the majority of the crowd on this Sunday afternoon, there were some Phillie fans who lived up to legend. In particular, I'm pretty certain that I saw a six-year-old girl sitting in my section yell to Brewers' right fielder Geoff Jenkins through a makeshift megaphone fashioned out of a popcorn container, "You're a dickweed." Her father, who was seated next to her, needless to say was not pleased.

He was thrilled.

August 04, 2005

Say it Ain't So

Memo to Steve Belkin -- tread carefully, my friend (for the record, I use the term "friend" loosely here). I don't know who you think you are, but you'd better get it together quickly lest you find yourself with an entire city's basketball fanbase (which admittedly amounts to about 11 people) plotting to leave flaming bags of fecal matter on your doorstep.

In case you don't know, Steve Belkin is the member of the Hawks' ownership team who is
holding up the Joe Johnson deal. Now, say what you want about the Hawks' proposed deal to get Johnson -- namely, they're overpaying at $70 mil for five years and giving up two future first-round picks -- but the Hawks need this. Badly. Sure the team landed Marvin Williams (a potential franchise player) in the 2005 Draft, but getting Joe Johnson means more than adding just another talented piece. This is about credibility. If the Hawks somehow fail to get Johnson, they will have gone two offseasons with a ton of salary cap room to spend on free agents and come away with essentially nothing (unless you count Zaza Pachulia as something, which I certainly do not). They need to regain some of the respect they've lost -- establish Atlanta as a place people want to come play -- and that can only happen if someone like Joe Johnson bolts a good situation in Phoenix because he wants to play in Atlanta (and I don't care that JJ is clearly coming to the Hawks in part because he's bitter at the Suns over how they handled his contract negotiations last year; frankly, I will take a premier free agent any way I can get one).

At the center of this problem is Belkin, who until today was stopping the deal without giving any specific reasons (as the team's "NBA governor," Belkin has the final say on approving any trades). But today Belkin spoke out, claiming he wants to sign Johnson but thinks giving up two picks is too much. He also claims that the Hawks are giving up a "quality player" in the deal in Boris Diaw, which shows you exactly how much this joker knows. In his two seasons in the NBA, Diaw has shown about as much aggressiveness as a sedated mule.

There's a chance that Belkin is just playing hardball with Phoenix thinking that they won't match the Hawks' offer to Johnson anyways (as Johnson is a restricted free agent, Phoenix has the ability to re-sign him by matching any contract offer; often teams will work out a deal involving players or picks as compensation to ensure that the team won't match the offer). If Belkin is playing hardball and he's right that Phoenix isn't going to match the offer regardless, then things could work out brilliantly for the Hawks. They could get Johnson without giving up any picks. But I'm not buying it. Personally, I think the Boston-based Belkin doesn't give two craps about the Hawks' franchise and is just trying to pinch pennies under the veil of looking out for the franchise. If he was a true Hawks loyalist and had been living and dying with the team at all over the past several years, he'd be so desperate to get this deal done that he -- like the rest of the Hawks' ownership team -- would essentially be willing to hand over the keys to his house to get Joe Johnson in a Hawks uni.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like this thing is getting any prettier. Belkin's co-owners have tried to oust him from his role as governor, and the team's resident member of the Fun Police has in return filed a lawsuit.

Life as a Hawks fan sure is sweet...

August 03, 2005

Divide and Conquer

The time I walked out of "City Slickers 2" being a notable exception, I like to think of myself as a uniquely patient individual who is able to put up with a remarkable amount of crap from other people when necessary. This of course has its drawbacks -- I definitely find myself trapped in horrendously dull conversation with exceedingly mundane personages at parties and other social functions far too often for my liking -- but for the most part I don't mind having such a laid-back disposition.

However, something has recently come to my attention that I can ignore no longer. Call me nitpicky if you want, but know that I was sitting back patiently listening to your story about purchasing new cargo shorts at that party last week when I really wanted to gouge your eyes out and stuff them in your mouth to make you stop talking. (Whew! Excuse me. I feel better now.)

Anyhow, as I was saying -- something has been chafing at me like nobody's business lately. It's been eating away at the back of my mind like some unwanted intruder from the insect world, nibbling bit-by-bit until I can take it no more. I've noticed it most of all on sports web sites (though admittedly that's all I read). Perhaps some of you "real news-reading types" have become aware of it as well. In fact, I think I recall having seen it on your news-oriented "New York Times" site.

What I speak of is the seemingly-newish practice of inserting a "continue story" link in the midst of an online article, forcing the reader to click on a link (sometimes leading to a pop-up ad or two) in order to finish the story. This has become particularly prevailent on, where I now have to click two or three times on a link just to complete a story. For whatever reason, I find this absolutely infuriating. I think it's primarily because -- beyond the fact that having to click on multiple links to get through a story is disruptive and irritating -- the whole inconvenience seems to be deeply unnecessary. Honestly, what purpose does this little interruption serve? In most cases on, clicking on the link between the story doesn't lead to any pop-up windows, so it's not for advertising (which I suppose I could understand). It's crossed my mind that the story is broken up to prevent people from easily cutting and pasting the entire story and sending it to other non-subscribers (many of's articles now require a paid subscription, which is a whole other thing I could get all riled up about).

Now I know, there are likely some of you out there who say, "Hey, having to click on a link isn't that annoying. It takes you all of two seconds to do it." But I assure you, naysayers out there, it's actually quite disruptive


to have to take an unwanted pause.

At the beginning of this little diatribe, I said I was the kind of person who could put up with a lot of crap when it was necessary. But I just don't see how this little article-dividing procedure does anyone any good. If there are any experts on the subject out there, please educate me. I'm interested in what you have to say.

I just can't guarantee I'll listen.

Lucky 13

I'm still trying to get my mind around this massive 13-player NBA trade that went down Tuesday night. Here are the principles (I've excluded the three NBA players with little or no NBA experience for the sake of keeping things as simple as possible):

Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey to Miami.

Eddie Jones to Memphis.

Greg Ostertag to Utah.

Rasual Butler and Kirk Snyder to New Orleans.

Dog-abuser Qyntel Woods, Curtis Borchardt, Raul Lopez and a couple of draft picks to Boston.

Call me insane if you like, but this just looks like a blatantly wonderful trade for Miami. Sure, some of the guys they're taking on have issues -- despite a horrendously inaccurate and rather ugly set-shot, Walker insists on hoisting threes (five per game in his career) as if attempting to prove to the world in most bitter fashion that he's one of the most versatile players in the league. And on the subject of bitter, Williams has had well-documented issues fitting in with his coaches and teammates throughout his career. So I get the point -- this trade is not without its risks. But there are three reasons I feel good about this deal for Miami:

1) It's just blatantly lopsided. If this trade were to go down in your fantasy league, you'd immediately declare Miami the big winner. And I know that real life hoops doesn't work like that, except...

2) You can bet that Shaq will have 'Toine and J-Will on their absolute best behavior. Not to say that Walker won't be jacking ridiculous threes during the course of the game or that Williams won't have some attitude problems. But do you think when it comes down to crunch time, 'Toine won't be dumping the ball in to Shaquille? (Okay, bad example -- he might just up and shoot it.) And do you think that Jason Williams is honestly going to get all up in Shaq's face when Shaq tries to regulate on him? It's one thing for Williams to mouth off to 96-year-old Hubie Brown in Memphis. Misbehaving on The Diesel's turf is an entirely more risky venture.

3) The James Posey factor. This guy wasn't really healthy all that much last year, but he is an absolutely perfect fit on a team like Miami. Great defender, unselfish player, and when he's going good he can bury an open trey, which come aplenty on Shaq's squads. I'm not saying Miami just won the title with this trade, but -- ire of Pistons' and Pacers' fans be damned -- no team in the East will be better.

August 01, 2005

A 'Worth While Acquisition

After months of hype and speculation, the MLB trade deadline ended like a squishy, half-second long fart yesterday -- fast and anticlimactic, with the end result something you don't necessarily want to look at. But in my mind there was one very noteworthy trade -- my hometown Bravos picked up hard-throwing country hardballer/behemoth Kyle Farnsworth from the Tigers.

This is a great baseball trade in my opinion -- Farnsworth has been known to hit 100 mph on the gun in the past and I'd be surprised if he's not closing games by the time the season's out -- but that's only a small reason I'm excited about it. All of his baseball skills aside, I'm thrilled with the Farnsworth acquisition because the man is unquestionably
the most exciting brawler in baseball and a true master of the body slam. I could not have put it any better than The Atlanta Journal-Constitution did today: "If a fight breaks out, the Braves have a new point man." Honestly, I'm not sure if you've ever seen Farnsworth in action when the gloves come off, but it's pretty remarkable. In 2003 he made mincemeat of Reds' pitcher Paul Wilson, and earlier this year he supplexed Royals' hurler Jeremy Affeldt. Honestly, I'm excited about seeing Farnsworth pitch and all, but I'm really hoping the Braves will get in one good solid brawl before the season's out so we can see Farnsworth at his best one more time.

Raffy's Big Mistake

I'm sure you've seen the headline by now -- just over two weeks after collecting his 3,000th career hit, Rafael Palmeiro has been suspended 10 days by MLB for a positive steroid test. My thoughts on this matter are threefold:

1) Crazy as you and I may think/know he is,
Jose Canseco's claims in his tell-all book Juiced are looking more and more credible by the day. Palmeiro was one of the few players Canseco explicitly accused of steroid use based on his own first-hand knowledge.

2) With that said, I'm not ready to get too carried away here and say that Rafael Palmeiro has been injecting himself with liquid extract from an elephant's ballsack or anything crazy like that. My guess is this violation was not for hardcore testosterone or nandrolone or whatever the other big gun steroids are. I bet this is some weird supplement that has traces of that stuff in it. Of course, we'll probably never know exactly what Palmeiro tested positive for, so it's easy for me to speculate without any real repercussions. Which I like.

3) I am of the opinion that it should not be allowed for a player to say he took steroids by accident. To me, this is like the old "dog ate my homework" or "that elderly woman ran out in front of my car" excuse -- everyone uses it, and it's just not flying. I'm sure there are some cases where a player actually does ingest steroids accidentally in some bizarre substance, but the fact that it's basically every single player's defense pretty much discredits them all in my mind. It's just not that believable. Pro athletes' bodies are their livelihoods. They know exactly what they're putting in there.

4) Okay, I said I had three things to say about this, but I just realized a fourth. In March, Rafael Palmeiro told congress he had never used steroids. I'm no Capital Hill insider, but I'm guessing lying to congress is generally a bad thing.