September 29, 2005

The Life and Times of Bobby Sura

For reasons I can't sufficiently articulate, I've been a Bob Sura fan for over a decade now. Though he's drifted from team-to-team, been unable to consistently stay healthy, and hasn't exactly been a frontline player (he's never averaged more than 32 minutes a game), Sura has always remained one of my 10 favorite players in the league. Even when he nearly disappeared, logging just 16.8 minutes per game for Cleveland in '98-'99, I didn't lose sight of Bobby S. I think I just have always liked something about the way he played -- pushing the ball, rebounding well for a guard, constantly going to the hole. You might see an injury-prone underacheiver; I see a guy who's always had all the tools to be an outstanding offensive basketball player but hasn't ever had the luck to land in the right situation. (And yes, I'm fully aware that this is starting to sound suspiciously like a man-crush.)

Coming out of Florida State in '95, Sura was supposed to be a Hawk. The Hawks had the #16 pick in the draft, and I couldn't see any way imaginable that they'd pass him up. But these were (and are) the Hawks, and in a moment I'll never forgive, the Hawks uttered the name of mouthpiece-gnawing lummox Alan Henderson, a man with arthritic knees who fittingly had no upside. Sura was scooped off the board by the Cavs one pick later. It stung like paprika sprinkled in a paper cut.

Sura eventually did become a Hawk, donning the ATL red and white for one glorious 27-game stretch in '03-'04, the ninth season of his career. His numbers (14.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 5.3 apg) and energy electrified The Omni -- whoops -- Philips Arena. With Sura running the show, the Hawks were almost fun to watch. Yes, they were horrendously bad, but this was something very closely resembling entertainment, and that was news for any Hawks fan during the dark age.

The next season Sura was gone -- the Hawks didn't seem interested in keeping him, a decade after the mistake at #16, the status quo of ignorance still intact. Sura was good for the Rockets last year, a crucial starter on a playoff team. At age 32, he had finally arrived as a consistent and productive NBA player. Maybe not everything he could have been, but somewhere close.

Today, Sura underwent knee surgery that he says could end his career. His doctor has called his knee "a train wreck." If you've followed Sura's career at all, you know that he's been knocked down before. Train wreck? Shoot -- this guy's been run over by a tank 10 times over. You heard it here first: Bobby Sura will rise again.

  • Speaking of last hurrahs, if this was Tom Glavine's final start in a Mets' uni, it sure was sweet. Somehow, the man's still got it at age 39, even without King Leo to guide him. The great mystery of the Glavine-as-a-Met era: Why couldn't he put it together for a full season?
  • Even the most rabid sports fanatics have to draw the line at some point when it comes to insignificant news, and this situation with Dick Vermeil taking offense at Champ Bailey's comments while mic'd up on Monday Night Football is one of those cases. What a waste of time.
  • 47 HR's, 146 RBI's? I've changed my mind. Who cares if he's a DH, and who cares what happens this coming weekend. David Ortiz is your AL MVP.

September 27, 2005

Kicking Around Some Ideas

Of all the major sports, I would argue that none is as heavily regimented and specialized as football. Return specialists, punters, special teams whizzes – there are even guys whose job it is to run down the field and try to deflect the ball from going into the end zone on a punt to prevent a touchback. Tasks don’t get much more specific than that. So why, I ask, is it that professional football teams, with such massive rosters and so much attention to detail, often don’t even carry a backup kicker?

If you were watching the Eagles-Raiders game on Sunday, you saw this first hand when Eagles’ kicker David Akers hurt his hammie early in the game, and next thing you knew linebacker Mark Simoneau was standing back there looking like a giant helmeted cyborg in Akers’ place, attempting – and promptly getting blocked on – the team’s next kick (which happened to be an extra point attempt). When this ingenious backup plan didn’t work, the Eagles did the logical thing – they brought Akers back to kick on his shredded hamstring, jeopardizing the remainder of his season at the very least. Akers connected on his lone field goal, but looked like he had been hit with a stray crossbow bolt doing so. Now he's most likely lost for a significant amount of time.

I just don’t get this. Sure teams don’t want to waste a roster spot on a backup kicker, and they just assume a guy like Akers – who has been very durable – will stay healthy. But with such insanely large rosters, wouldn’t it make sense to be sure to have a capable backup so that you can avoid having your top kicker running out there on an annihilated limb?

  • Los Bravos’ numero magico: uno. They could very well clinch their 14th straight division title before mid-week. (Update: they clinched Tuesday night.) But lately I can’t help having flashbacks to last season, when my cousin's lament of “Fuckin’ Reitsma” sounded out all too often after meaningful late-season games. Let’s hope the world’s greatest manager (had no choice but to link to ESPN here when Jayson Stark is giving the Braves props) can keep Chris Reitsma far away from important situations come playoff time. I don’t trust the guy (Reitsma, that is).
  • Seems like it happens to someone right before the end of the season, whether it actually happens or not: A.J. Burnett has been told to take his toys and go home.

  • Had a number of firsts in the past week. At my rec league basketball game, I showed up at the gym and went to change out of my clothes from work only to realize I had completely forgotten my shorts. The ultimate wardrobe malfunction. In my panic (the game was set to start in about 10 minutes) I considered playing in boxers, but immediately aborted this idea for reasons that should be quite obvious. I ended up making a mad sprint around the clothing-deprived Theater District (where my game was located) and eventually found one of those dingy souvenir shops where, in the very back, I found some hideous gray sweat shorts with “New York City” emblazoned on the lower left leg. Needless to say, they were horrendously embarrassing to behold. And expensive. You know how they say your appearance and general comfort level with said appearance has something to do with how you performs on the field of play? Well, I’m blaming the shorts for my wretched shooting that night.
  • And speaking of that night, I made it a rare basketball/bowling doubleheader when I headed over to Leisure Time Lanes at the Port Authority to meet some friends. And on my first roll of the night, I experienced another first: I took an errant step across the line into the lubed-up part of the lane and went down as though Van Damme had just swept my legs. Seriously – this was not just a little stumble or something. This was a full-scale yard sale. The ball went flying down the lane, somehow hitting a few pins, and next thing I knew I was lying on my back with my feet pointing towards the pins a good 10 feet down the lane. “OVER THE LINE!” yelled one of my friends, a known Big Lebowski enthusiast. I managed to get up (it was slippery as hell) and back to my seat, my left arm covered in a substance oddly resembling tanning oil. Bowled a highly disappointing 109 in Game 1. Couldn’t find my sweat shorts to pin the blame on (probably because I had thrown them out in the bathroom when I arrived at the bowling alley).
  • A couple more firsts: For the first time in a very long time, I ended up at a bar in New Yorkwhere patrons were smoking on Saturday night. It was completely surreal. Also adding to the surreal nature of the establishment was the fact that it seemed to be the kind of place where all of the patrons might suddenly decide to band together and savagely bludgeon an outsider like myself for no good reason.
  • On the way home that night, I hopped in a taxi, told the cab driver my destination (going from the east side to the west side) only to have him respond, “Can you teach me the way?” Say what? What the hell am I, your sensei? Teach you the way? I sincerely hope that it was the guy’s first night on the job, because my destination wasn’t exactly that obscure. Nonetheless, as I navigated his disoriented ass uptown, I felt -- despite my frustration -- like a real New Yorker, a far cry from the sorry sucker who had been fleeced for a pair of basketball shorts in a desperate fit two days before.

September 22, 2005

Please Pass the Hardware

Okay, okay. Jeez! Relax, alright? Please, just stop pestering me. You only need ask once.

Actually, come to think of it, you have only asked once -- which is to say, one amongst you has asked. What, you may be wondering, have you asked for? My picks for baseball's regular season awards, of course. And after much thought, and with a heavy predisposition towards personal bias, I am ready to oblige. But first, my rules for picking baseball awards:

1. The Meaningful Games Clause: The MVP needs to be on a team that makes the postseason or is at least in the pennant race, unless there are no clear candidates from contending clubs.

2. The Rule of Two: If two players on the same winning team are having comparably spectacular seasons, in most cases they cancel one another out and cannot be considered for the award.

3. The Pitcher's Exemption: Cy Young candidates, unlike MVP candidates, need not be members of a contending squad. And ties shall not be broken by choosing which pitcher is on a better team. This is blasphemy. The award is for the best pitcher. Decide who that is.

4. Just Win, Dammit! Not Quite. Wins are an important part of the equation when deciding between Cy Young candidates, but other factors (particularly ERA; sorry, I'm not a huge enough stat geek to get into any newfangled business) are at least equally important. One cannot choose a Cy Young candidate by simply saying, "He has more wins."

5. Stats Are What Matter, Rookie: By the way, don't give me some nonsense about how a guy with lesser stats should be Rookie of the Year just because he played for a winner. Just like the Cy Young, the ROY award is supposed to go to the best rookie. Doesn't matter who he played for. (We'll put this rule to a good test in just a moment.)

6. A Xenophobe is Not an Instrument: Some people believe that if a player has been playing professionally overseas (this most often comes up for players coming over from Japan) he shouldn't be eligible for the Rookie of the Year award. I can see where people are coming from with this, but this would be a tough rule to regulate. Where do you make the cut-off? Is one year of pro ball in Japan enough to preclude a player from winning the ROY? Is it three years? Five? Is a guy playing two seasons of Japanese baseball really that much more prepared than someone spending two years in Triple-A? Furthermore, enough players have struggled in the big leagues after successful careers in Japan to make it a significant accomplishment when a guy comes over and has a great first year.

Now that you've got the rules, we can go to the picks. (Stats are as of Wednesday)


American League: Huston Street, A's. 1.59 ERA, 21 saves, 0.99 WHIP, a .190 BA against. And he was in college last year. 'Nuff said.
Also considered: Tadahito Iguchi, Joe Blanton, Scott Kazmir, Jonny Gomes, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Dan Johnson, Chris Young, Gustavo "I Only Pitch Against Shawn Chacon" Chacin.

National League: Willy Taveras, Astros. Sorry, Jeff Francoeur, you had to take one for the team here. I couldn't very well pick Francoeur for ROY and not have my readers) immediately remember for the thousandth time what a ridiculously biased Braves fan I am. I could make a strong case for Francoeur considering that he has 32 extra base hits and 12 outfield assists in just 61 games, but I need all the ammo I can get for when it comes time to talk NL MVP. I don't think Taveras is an exceptionally valuable player, but he has hit .290 and stolen 33 bases while playing just about every day in center field, and some of the other candidates chasing him weren't in the big leagues for the whole season, which gives Taveras the nod.
Also considered: Francoeur, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Howard, Zach Duke, Clint Barmes, Garret Atkins, Kelly Johnson, Ryan "Laderhosen" Langerhans


American League: Bartolo Colon, Angels. Very tough call, as there really isn't one truly dominant candidate. Jeff Gray broke this race down very well on his Tigers blog recently. I wanted to give the award to Johan Santana, and considered Mariano Rivera, but ultimately Santana didn't quite have enough wins or a great enough ERA to separate himself from the pack, and I don't really think relievers should get the Cy Young (another one of my rules -- I think it makes more sense to give a reliever MVP; tough to call a guy the league's best pitcher when he only has to throw one inning at a time). Colon gets the nod because he's got 20 wins, a 3.34 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. And this year in the AL, that's enough to win it.
Also considered: Santana, Rivera, and a bunch of other guys who aren't good enough to mention.

National League: Roger Clemens, Astros. Is this a controversial pick? I think some of you would say it absolutely is. Do I think that the Rocket is on some kind of undetectable mystery drug that is allowing his body to hold up and enabling him to pitch as well as he ever has at age 43? I have my suspicions. Was I tempted to pick either Dontrelle Willis or Chris Carpenter? No more questions please. The fact is, Clemens has a 1.89 ERA. Opponents are hitting .197 against him. Sure he's only 12-8, but remember rule #4 above -- wins can be overrated. With a little bit of luck, Clemens would have 20+ wins easily. And I know it's not about luck, but I look at the numbers without overemphasizing wins, and it seems pretty clear that Clemens has been the best pitcher in the league this year.
Also considered
: Willis, Carpenter, Pedro Martinez


American League: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels. Yes, I did. (I will now duck to avoid whatever that is you just threw at me. Was that a knife?!? It stuck right into the wall. That could really hurt somebody.) Seriously, before you Red Sox and Yankee fans accidentally force out a turd getting all fired up about this choice, I draw your attention to The Rule of Two, clearly stated above: "If two players on the same winning team are having comparably spectacular seasons, in most cases they cancel one another out and cannot beconsidered for the award." So as much as you want to pick Big Papi, Manny or ARod, you have to realize each one of those guys has one glaring dominant offensive force on his squad to take away some of the import of his numbers (for Ortiz, it's Manny, and for Manny it's Ortiz; for ARod, it's Gary Sheffield and even Hideki Matsui). Vlad's totals might not be as good as these others, but he's carrying the Angels basically by himself. That's valuable.
Also considered: Ortiz, Ramirez, ARod, Mark Teixeira

National League: Andruw Jones, Braves. That was tough to see coming, right? Call me crazy, but I guess I've been won over by the 50 HR's, 126 rbi's and Gold Glove play in center field. Sure it helps that I've watched him play every day, and talk all you like about Albert Pujols' superiority in various stats like OPS, etc., but Andruw Jones deserves this award. With Chipper Jones missing significant time with injuries, Andruw has been the only consistent force in the middle of the Atlanta lineup, and without him, there is absolutely no chance the Braves are in contention.

Unfortunately, I suppose the same could be said for Pujols. His normal sidekicks (Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen) haven't been particularly great, or in the case of Rolen, haven't been healthy, yet somehow the Cardinals score tons of runs (and win tons of games) running the likes of Abraham Nunez and So Taguchi out there every day. So, yes, I'll give Pujols his dues.

I just won't give him the award.

  • Some non-sports news is too good to overlook. This just in, courtesy of a loyal reader: Ice-T is going to produce David Hasselhoff's rap album. Definitely falls under the category of, "I sincerely hope that this is a hoax. Wait, no I don't."
  • reviews the latest series of NBA video games. Personally, I haven't played any of them, but the new NBA Live looks pretty sick. If they ever figure out how to make that game as playable as it should be, someone let me know and I'll go buy another PS2.
  • You know, people say we Braves fans aren't passionate about our hometown team, but the truth of the matter is, we're in such a hurry to get back to our seats at Turner Field that we don't even wash our hands.
  • ESP-aNnoyance: Have you noticed that sometime in the past six months or year has started featuring a handful of its columnists under the heading "National Voice"? For example, currently on the front page, just below the main headlines, is a box that says "National Voice: Pat Forde." Pardon me, but where the hell does ESPN get the gall stones to call its columnists national voices? Are these elected spokespeople for our country? Are they expressing the words the anonymous people of our nation so badly want to speak, but don't have the platform to do so? Forgive me for not quite buying it -- Forde's current nation-encompassing column is about how the Oklahoma Sooners are out of the title hunt in college football. I can feel American pride rising from within like an upswell of strangely wonderful embalming fluid. The National Voice has spoken!

September 19, 2005

Where's My Magazine?

Just finished reading last week's issue of Sports Illustrated, and boy is my ass chapped. 130 pages in the mag and 55 of them are devoted to a special advertising section called "SI Tailgate Nation." Six and a half pages (counting generously) were devoted to baseball. Not sure about you, but for me, 55 pages of advertising section + 6.5 pages baseball content = trashcan fire.

I will admit, I don't read special advertising sections for precisely the same reason I don't stop to watch infomercials -- even if the subject matter is kind of entertaining (nothing better than a light blue suit and an unkempt mullet), you still come away feeling completely sleazy knowing that you just spent 15 minutes of your not-that-precious time tuning in to a commercial. Since I didn't read it, I suppose this little expose on tailgating could have been nothing short of thrilling, but I feel insulted just on principle here. Don't feed me this crap and call it journalism. I understand you have to advertise, but there are pages for that. Don't label half the actual "content" in your magazine an advertisement, or I'll stop subscribing faster than you can say "ESPN the Magazine." Yeah, that's right -- I said it. Without my $44.24 a year, the Time Warner empire is most certainly doomed!
  • Could it have been just a coincidence that on today, Talk Like a Pirate Day, on one city block during one 30-second period I saw a woman wearing an eyepatch and a man who was missing a foot whose (for lack of a better word) nub looked oddly like a peg leg?
  • And speaking of coincidence, what are the chances that two guys named Chacin and Chacon would take the mound against one another twice in less than a month? For the record, Chacon won both matchups, and yes, I am quite annoyed at myself for pointing this out.
  • You know what has to suck even more than tearing your Achilles' tendon? Tearing the same one again nine months later, which Ronald Curry did last night.
  • Given that I have an ongoing campaign to point out all that's irritating about ESPN, I'm kind of trying to make a concerted effort not to link to unless I can't avoid it. And when the Worldwide Leader blows it out with a huge tribute to King Leo complete with an animation of him rocking back and forth in his seat, well...I can't help it.
  • Ominous sign from ATL: the Hawks are bringing in free agent Anthony Grundy for a look. Has this once-proud franchise fallen so far that management is now looking to bring in players who very closely resemble grundle? That's embarassing.

September 14, 2005

Crazy Kids

Did you ever have a little cousin, maybe three, four years old, always running around, non-stop motor, velcro sneakers and a slightly crazed look in his eyes? We all know this kid, right? The one who's tugging at the leg of your leather pants (or corduroy, if that's your preference) while you're sitting at the table trying to do what adults do after meals, which is recline, comment about how great the meal was and see if they can sneakily squeeze out farts without being noticed.

After a while, of course, the kid keeps on asking you to come play with him, and you relent. Sure kid, I'll run around with you. Here's a stick -- here's a stick. Now go get it! (You throw the stick.)

You know the routine. After a while of running away from you or running after whatever you happen to throw across the lawn, the kid gets tired, because that's what kids do. The only difference between dogs and little kids in situations like these is that dogs usually stop and take a dump somewhere on the yard during the whole charade (of course, if you have a particularly troublesome kid on your hands, he might stop to take a dump as well). Poop break or no, the one certainty about the situation is that the dog (or child) eventually gets worn out and has to stop.

I bring this up because apparently, in a place which I am led to believe is very far away from here known as "India," there is a child, name of Budhia Singh, age three, who runs quite a bit more than the average child playing on the front lawn. Seems young Budhia, for reasons that are very much unclear, awakens each day at 5 a.m. to begin running, and does not stop until noon. He then is allowed some food and a nap (how kind!) before he begins running again at 4 p.m. He does all of this because his coach, a chemically imbalanced fellow by the name of Biranchi Das, believes this three-year-old has a shot at getting his name in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Fascinating stuff. And exactly what record is it he's aiming for, Mr. Das? Youngest child to die from completely inhumane and apparently unnecessary marathon training?

Another question I want answered: Why the hell does a three-year-old need a coach? Most of the three-year-olds I know can't even open a Capri Sun, so they're certainly not going to listen to someone lecturing them about pacing themselves, or proper stride length, or how to avoid dying when running absurdly long distances at age three.

But what do I know? Seems like kids are getting older much faster these days. You got kids running around the city with cell phones, two-way pagers, hovercrafts. Sheeeeeit, when I was three I wore OshKosh B'Gosh overalls, and I was excited when I was deemed old enough to get a digital watch. Maybe running marathons is just what three-year-olds do now. How times have changed...

-ESP-aNnoyance: The Worldwide Leader in Irritation has agreed to a new eight-year, $2.37 billion deal to keep Major League Baseball as part of its increasingly unwatchable lineup. I will admit, live sports coverage is one of the few things that ESPN still does quite well, so I'm not angry per se to see MLB staying with ESPN. More than anything, I'm stunned at the magnitude of the deal. I'm no economist -- the only checkbook balancing I do is trying to make the thing fit on an overly crowded shelf -- but this sure seems like a lot of shilling to dole out for the rights to MLB considering that ESPN's current deal (set to expire at the end of this season) is six years, $850 million. But I guess we've already established that I'm behind the times. Maybe $2.4 billion isn't that much money anymore.

-Remember last month when I wrote about the worst sports injuries I'd ever seen? Of course you don't. But if you did remember, you'd know that I made reference to one unforgettable day in 1992 when Braves' catcher Greg Olson got plowed over at home plate by Ken Caminiti, breaking his ankle. Just so happened that in the aftermath of the incident, TBS cameras caught a young OCC, in attendance at the game, rubbing fake tears out of his eyes and pointing down towards Olson on the field. When I wrote about this, I half-jokingly asked if anyone out there could get this footage. Turns out my cousin Greg -- a man who, in the tradition of Red from Shawshank, knows how to get things -- tracked down the footage in question. Watch closely when the cameras pan the crowd about 30 seconds in. Yours truly is towards the right side of the screen in a white t-shirt and horrendous haircut, while yours truly's dad is just to the left in a blue shirt. Bravo, Greg.

September 13, 2005

Please, Call me Officer...

I'm not sure who's in charge of publicity for Shaquille O'Neal, but I want this person handling my business affairs (of which I have none) as soon as possible. Sure, it's noteworthy that Shaq "assisted" Miami police in making an arrest over the weekend, but let's not get carried away here. All he did was witness an assault and then follow the perpetrator in his car for a bit before alerting a police officer of the situation. When I saw the headline "Shaq Assists Police in Arresting Man," I was picturing the big fella leading a fierce charge out of the back of a SWAT team van armed with an M-16 and strapped with about 10 hand grenades. It's pretty safe to say that most of us have been in on an arrest or two at one time or another. No big deal, if you ask me. What's that? You've never been in on an arrest? Fine, me neither. But, you get the point -- seems like all the Diesel's gotta do these days is call 911 and we're erecting a statue of him in the town square. I like Shaq and all, but constantly hearing about Shaq the good samaritan kind of cheapens the seemingly more genuine things he does under the radar but somehow we end up hearing about (I'm telling you, that publicist is brilliant), like the time he took Mark Madsen shopping for clothes. Give me stories like that over Shaq making so-called "arrests" any day. (Unless, of course, he's running out of a SWAT team van carrying a bunch of hand grenades.)

-In an era that has seen athletes add flesh and muscle to their bodies at an alarming rate in an effort to improve their performance (and sometimes using morally questionable means to do so), it's refreshing to see that at least one sportsman is focused on downsizing. That's right -- Aussie professional rugby player Brett Blackwell has decided to lop off his ring finger in an effort to extend his career. And in one of the great contradictions of all time, this man who is tough enough to saw off a digit to prolong his career in a sport that might get his eyes gouged out -- or, worse yet, his testicles stomped -- refers to rugby as "footy." What a wuss.

-Dave, I appreciate where you're coming from, but please...just one more season?

-By the way, I've been very impressed with the response from you, the readership, in the wake of my recent hamstring injury. It takes a lot of courage to look a weakened man in the face and completely ignore him. I respect that.

September 12, 2005

Who's in Left?

It is perhaps the most anticipated "debut" by someone the entire world already knows since Malcolm Jamal Warner launched his smash hit series "Malcolm and Eddie" nine years ago. Yes, that's right -- Barry Bonds is back. And in his first AB of the season, in game number 143, #25 nearly hit homer number 704. But some silly fan reached out and interfered with the potential homer, leaving the most famous left fielder on the planet with a ground rule double and proving for the thousandth time that the world clearly is out to get Barry Bonds.

A couple notes on Barry, in all seriousness: First of all, he looks to be in very good shape. Saw him run full speed and attempt a sliding catch on a ball that ended up falling in front of him, and he was moving pretty well. But I guess that's not altogether surprising considering he went through one of the more cautious rehabs in recent memory. 142 games for a fairly minor knee surgery? Sorry, but that just doesn't seem right.

Secondly, Barry looks big. Like, just as big as he did before he missed virtually all of Season One of the steroid testing era. This is not Pudge Rodriguez or Sammy Sosa showing up to camp in April looking like they'd been shut in the basement and fed rice cakes all summer. Bonds looks to have kept on just about all his weight despite a lengthy recovery from surgery and a reportedly troublesome infection caused by said surgery. For once, I'm not going to speculate about what this means. All I'm going to say is: interesting.

-Speaking of Sosa, caught wind of a rumor today that he might go play in Japan next year. I for one say good riddance. Between the corked bat incident and blaring sirens that scream steroid use, I've had just about enough of Sammy's act. Now watch him go to Japan and become the next Tuffy Rhodes. A couple other baseball notes from the same article: Luis Castillo is thinking about giving up switch hitting because he's far better from the right side. Why don't more players do this? It seems crazy to me that they'd throw away well over half their AB's swinging lefty when they are clearly worse from that side. And former Cards' pitching phenom Rick Ankiel finished his first season as an outfielder with 21 HR's and 75 rbi's in 85 games. I said at the start of the season I had a hunch Ankiel could pull it off, and it looks like he just might. Considering what he's come back from, there are few guys I root for more sincerely.

-I'm not sure if the Falcons got better or if the Eagles got worse -- and I'm writing this with the game far from decided (9:15 left in the fourth quarter and ATL up 14-10) -- but this game sure looks a lot different from last year's NFC championship game. The margin might be only 4 points, but for just about all of this game, the Falcons have clearly been the better team. (Update: Falcons win, 14-10. Normally reserved ATL fans, particularly fired up on this night, consider flooding the streets but instead decide to go home and go to sleep. Everyone rests peacefully.)

More Falcons news: Patrick Kerney is certifiably insane.

-Anyone happen to see a Ravens' tight end by the name of Daniel Wilcox haul in 8 catches for 78 yards on Sunday night? Watching the game but not paying complete attention, I noted to myself in passing that whoever this was, he looked pretty impressive. It was only today that I realized, thanks to loyal OCC reader jimmyrad, that I actually knew quite well who Daniel Wilcox was. Back in the mid-90's, he was a standout baller at ATL's Decatur High, my school's top rival. We didn't have a football team, but if we did, it would have been scary to play against Decatur.

-Just when you thought they were finished, the Hawks made another big splash, signing Esteban Batista to a free agent deal. What's that? You've never heard of Batista? Well, you obviously don't follow hoops in Uruguay closely enough. This guy is a big deal. Half the teams in the league wanted to sign him! Actually, no they didn't. If this bozo ends up being half as good as Yinka Dare (R.I.P.), I'll stencil "Blair Rasmussen" into my chest with a flaming hot protractor. Any time you read that the player your NBA team just signed is "2.05 metres" tall, it's just not a good sign. How's the guy going to adjust to life in the U.S. if he's still on the freaking metric system??!?!?

September 11, 2005

Sunday Night Soap Box

Thoughts from this sports fan's steadily decaying brain:

-Signs that your fantasy football "habit" may be turning into a "problem": You find yourself on the Florida Division of Emergency Management website early Sunday morning in an effort to determine whether or not Hurricane Ophelia is going to hinder Jacksonville QB Byron Leftwich's performance.

-Big ups to Panthers' wide receiver Steve Smith, who unleashed a completely lude and inappropriate touchdown celebration on Sunday that seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the conservative tightwads who get all upset when NFL players do something entertaining after scoring a TD. In case you missed it, Smith jumped up in the air, wrapped his legs around the pole supporting the uprights and slid down it like his name were "Stevonne" and he slid down poles professionally. (Wait, his name actually is Stevonne. Never mind.) The point is, the celebration was easily as lude as Randy Moss' notorious fake moon at Lambeau field last year, but I'm guessing Steve's fine, if he receives one at all, will be far less than the one Randy got. Reputation seems to go a long way in these situations, and before today I don't think anyone thought of Steve Smith as the kind of guy who would slide down a pole in the end zone. As a side note, Smith may be the most underrated receiver in the NFL. The guy is fast as hell and catches everything thrown his way.

-Bad news from Green Bay: Packers' wideout Javon Walker blew his knee into a thousand pieces Sunday. And he's definitely on both of my fantasy teams. Kind of inconsiderate of him. (S
igns that your fantasy football "habit" may be turning into a "problem": You are legitimately furious at Javon Walker for suffering a knee injury that is clearly far more devastating to him and his football team than it is to your make-believe franchise that competes against your friends' other make-believe franchises.)

-Speaking of injuries, I broke into new territory this weekend -- pulled a hamstring making an aggressive turn around third base in a softball game. Felt like I had taken an assassin's bullet in the back of my thigh. Much like that favorite pair of tube socks or Cuban style roast pork, you never really know how much you need that hamstring until it's gone. Man, it's tough to walk without the old hammy functioning properly. Feels like hobbling around with a pegleg, without any of the other cool perks of being a pirate.

-49 HR's, 121 rbi's. I said it before, but some of you weren't listening, so I will reiterate it now in a mildly vehement tone: Andruw Jones is the MVP of the National League. I don't even know who this Albert Pujols guy is.

-ESP-aNnoyance: Actually, this isn't really annoying per se, but has anyone else noticed how incredibly awkward it is every time one of Kenny Mayne's completely bizarre and off-topic pieces airs during Sunday NFL Countdown? Chris Berman never has any clue what to say after these things. And to be honest, why should he? Today's piece was about how people try to steal Chargers' QB Drew Brees' identity by wearing Drew Brees replica jerseys. Pure nonsense. The only problem with these Kenny Mayne segments (other than the fact that they really have no place in the middle of a nuts-and-bolts-talking-football show) is the fact that they're really not very funny. Needless to say, I'm incredibly jealous of Kenny Mayne nonetheless. If only I had a platform from which to babble incessantly on topics of my choosing...

September 07, 2005

Not So Fast: Lance on the Comeback Trail and Other Random Thoughts

Has any figurative extension of the middle finger been more satisfying in recent memory than that directed by Lance Armstrong towards the entire nation of France this week? Normally I'm not a big fan of false retirements -- it ain't cool to get everyone to throw you a going away party and then come back before the cake plates have been thrown out -- but you get the sense that Lance has no choice here. The man's integrity has been questioned, and as fictional Indians' catcher Jake Taylor would say, there's only one thing left to do: Win the whole fucking thing. The "whole fucking thing" in this case would be the '06 Tour de France, and it appears that Lance is seriously considering suiting up and riding out once again. Even if he doesn't, you gotta love the move of making some noise to at the very least get those tightwads in France to mess their rather fashionable trousers.

One last note on this: I'm not sure where I stand on the whole Lance doping issue, but I will say that regardless of whether he's always been clean or not, threatening to come back and compete again in the face of more allegations is a brilliant strategical maneuver. Much harder to call the guy a cheater when he's planning to subject himself to more testing just to rub it in your face one more time.

-In a somewhat surreal and entirely stunning moment, Stephon Marbury broke down crying at a press conference Tuesday while discussing the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. My first thought was that Steph might have lost friends or relatives in New Orleans, but apparently that's not the case. I'm not ready to give Marbury the Nobel Prize or decide he's suddenly one of the true good guys in all of sports (though his pledge to donate $500,000 is pretty commendable). However, I will say this -- it's easy to forget that the lens of the media through which we view pro athletes is narrow and often quite distorted. To think that we really know any athletes, or can truly judge their characters from what we read about them in the newspaper, is absurd.

-An immediate test for my reluctance to pass judgment: Celtics' swingman Tony Allen may have done a rather bad thing.

-After I ran my mouth about Robert Traylor failing his physical and losing out on a contract offer from the Nets, presuming that Traylor had failed the exam because of something stemming from his weight, turns out I was probably right, but not in a way I anticipated. Word has it that the Tractor has a pretty serious heart problem similar to the one that sidelined Lakers' draft pick Ronny Turiaf. Here's hoping we see Bob and Ronny lumbering down the floor on an NBA court sometime in the not-too-distant future.

-The Mets -- and most notably Mike Cameron, who was wearing a long jheri-curl wig and #45 jersey to impersonate Pedro Martinez in the dugout -- were having fun early on at Turner Field Wednesday night, but the demoralized looks on the players' faces after Ryan Langerhans' game-winning, two-run single in the bottom of the 10th made me wonder if Willie Randolph's team has any chance of recovering to get back in the wild card race. They were so close a week ago, and now are suddenly five games out. Langerhans' liner to left center might have been a knockout blow.

-ESP-aNnoyance -- Anchors standing up instead of sitting behind their desks at the start of SportsCenter. Am I the only one who finds this completely distracting? Honestly, what is the point of this? Call me old-fashioned, but give me two anchors (preferably neither of which is Linda Cohn) sitting at a desk ready to roll when the show starts. What is standing up, hands awkwardly in the pockets or flapping about at one's sides, going to prove? Does it somehow prove that you, the SportsCenter anchor, are somehow more active than the average bear because you're standing up, therefore making you more "fit" to cover athletic endeavors for a living? Or is it simply to prove that you're actually wearing pants underneath that desk? Whatever the case, I don't get it, and I don't like it. Sit down.

September 05, 2005

Doing it the Fen Way: A Night in Red Sox Nation

The OCC’s summer ballpark tour made a stop at Fenway Park this weekend, most likely the last regular season game on the schedule for yours truly (games at the pit known as Shea Stadium notwithstanding). As usual, paper and pen, at least figuratively speaking, were right alongside beer and brat. Here are my thoughts from a September Saturday night at Fenway:

-Steve Trachsel may be the most notoriously slow-working pitcher in all of baseball, but when it comes to slothful deliveries, Matt Clement is right there with him. And Orioles’ lefty Erik Bedard – Clement’s opponent on Saturday – isn’t much quicker. With men on base, Clement was taking close to 30 seconds from the moment he got the ball to the time he delivered the pitch. Doesn’t seem like that long, but I assure you it’s an eternity. Pacing around the mound, looking in for the sign, coming to the stretch position and just…holding it for a few…more…seconds. T-t-t-t-today, JUNIOR! To give you an idea how bad things were, the first inning took 30 minutes, and not a single run scored. Something’s gotta be done about guys like this, because they are truly awful to watch, and at moments during Saturday night’s game I could understand how people say they hate baseball. The problem is, having a “shot clock” to determine how long a pitcher has to get rid of the ball is so contrary to what baseball is all about – the game is unique because it has no clock. But darned if I didn’t want to run out to the mound and take an electric shock prod to Clement’s ass to try to bring the guy to life.

-The defending World Series champs may be sitting in first place again, but don’t think for a second that all the success has made Red Sox fans jaded. Sharp contrast to my visit to Citizen’s Bank Park earlier this summer, where the near sold-out Philly crowd seemed to be in a mildly angry daze. The fans at Fenway, on the other hand, were excitable to the point of being irritating. Not that fan enthusiasm is a bad thing, and I’m all for applauding great plays and big moments, but perhaps we could dial it down a notch on the routine fly balls caught by Johnny Damon. Also, though I can’t stand the Wave, I’ll admit that the Boston version encompassing the entire stadium was amusing…until about the eighth time around. I think I missed an entire half inning of action on the field because I was so distracted by the cascade of rising persons roaring through the stands.

-Went to the game with a friend of mine who recently tore his Achilles, and let me just say – having seen the lengthy string of stitches going up the back of his heel – this is one particular injury Dr. OCC would recommend avoiding. On the bright side, as my friend proved this weekend, a torn Achilles (and a pair of crutches) won’t completely derail your athletic activity: it’s still possible to play croquet.

-And while we’re on the subject of crutches, I have to ask the question: In a society that’s created technological advances such as the autogiro and the car wash, can’t we do better than a pair of crutches for a leg injury? Not only do the things tear gashes into your armpits befitting a medieval torture device and make going up or down a flight of stairs a far more dangerous endeavor than whatever injured you in the first place, but crutches may constitute the slowest form of transportation outside of a rickshaw pulled by a two-toed tree sloth. (And yes, I’m aware that’s two references to sloths in the same post, both with negative connotations, which begs the question: Do we ever, in any circumstances, have anything nice to say about sloths?)

-There are archaic laws and regulations in this country that still make sense, such as chopping off someone’s hands when they steal from you (What’s that? We don’t actually do that here?), but I cannot understand the Fenway Park practice of not having beer vendors come around the aisles and sell brewskies to people in their seats. Sure, I get that the idea is to deter heavy drinking by making people get up to buy beer themselves, and I suppose considering how lazy we Americans are as a society, in theory it’s a good idea, but the fact is, when sports fans want their booze, they’re going to get it. If you’re going to sell beer on the grounds, might as well join the rest of modern stadium society and make it convenient to access.

-Getting back to the action on the field (sorry, I got distracted – blame it on the Wave), the Red Sox 7-6 win on this night seemed a perfect microcosm of the Boston ballclub’s chances for a World Series repeat. The team’s offense is unbelievable, but if the pitching – in particular Curt Schilling at the front of the rotation and Keith Foulke at the end of the game – can’t recapture some semblance of the form it showed last year, this team could be in trouble come October.

September 02, 2005

'Druw Can Do It

At the beginning of this season, everyone in the Braves camp was predicting a huge season for Andruw Jones. The signs were all there: At age 28, he was reaching his prime years. He had adjusted his batting stance (moving his feet further apart to avoid lunging at offspeed pitches), finally heeding the advice of hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who had long been urging Andruw to make the change. And the results this spring were huge -- the Braves' center fielder blasted 10 homers in spring training. No question, this was the year he would finally reach the insane expectations he had carried for so long.

But the season started more or less dreadfully. After an 0-for-4 on April 26th, he was hitting just .182 with 2 home runs. The next day, he hit his third, and outside of a three-week slump in late May/early June, Andruw Jones has been, quite simply, unstoppable. Last night I got chills watching him round the bases after a 10th inning, walk-off blast, a rare occurence in a regular season game (the chills, not the walk-off homer).

Entering play on Friday, the doughy center fielder from Curacao led all major leaguers in home runs (with 44) and led the NL in RBI's (110). Add in his spectacular center field defense, and (I swear I never thought I'd be saying this) at this precise moment, Andruw Jones is the MVP of the National League. Unbelievable.

-Breaking news: Robert Traylor has
failed his physical and will not be joining the Nets for 2005-06. You don't say! I'm absolutely stunned. Honestly, what were Rod Thorn and the Nets expecting? Has anyone looked at Robert Traylor recently? The man has lost weight and he still weighs 790 pounds. Failing physicals is just what he does, plain and simple. You're not hiring the man to be freaking Richard Simmons in terms of physical fitness; you're looking for an enforcer in the paint to give you some nice minutes off the bench. Admittedly I have no idea what's ailing Traylor -- for all I know it's a serious injury -- but in the wake of the Nets getting cold feet and deciding not to trade for Shareef Abdur-Rahim earlier this month, I'm thinking it might be time to go looking for a new team doctor.

-Quote of the Unspecified Time Period Until I Find a Better One:
"I don't care if you found out that he has a jet engine in his anus. He's the best that's ever been. Leave it alone."
-The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, addressing the French sports newspaper L'Equipe's recent doping allegations against Lance Armstrong