Archive for the Sports Category

Worlds are Colliding, Jerry!

Posted in Sports with tags , on October 6, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So, if you haven’t heard, John Henry and the New England Sports Ventures conglomerate have waded into the morass that is top flight European Football. And not only that, they’ve purchased Liverpool FC, my favorite Premier League team. I’ve been reading the English press, and it seems Liverpool fans are a bit reticent about more Yank owners. I will just say this: Tom Hicks bid against himself to sign Alex Rodriguez, and then somehow managed to pay the Yankees to take A-Rod off his hands. John Henry brought Boston its first (and second) World Series in 86 years. I can’t even tell you how excited I am.

What’s even more awesome about this is that the New York Yankees, hated rivals of the Red Sox, have a partnership with Manchester United, hated rivals of Liverpool. It warms my heart that hopefully, some day, some little lad from Merseyside will grow up hating the Yankees just because he’s a Liverpool fan. And if Henry and Co. put a Red Sox logo on the Reds’ jersey, everyone in my family is getting a Liverpool replica kit for the holidays.

Bold prediction: Liverpool will lift a major trophy by 2014. And maybe you’ll even hear the dulcet tones of “Sweet Caroline” ringing down from the terraces.

Look Who’s Late to the World Cup Party!

Posted in Sports on June 17, 2010 by fieldingmellish

Well, I completely failed to jot down my pre-Cup predictions. Suffice to say, they were all brilliant and perfect and everything’s gone according to plan. Ha. Anyways, now that the second round of games is well underway, here are some random thoughts and musings on the World Cup so far.

  • Americans have applied their unique brand of overreacting already. If it wasn’t for one lucky bounce, the US would be tied with Algeria on 0 points and looking at a potential disaster. I don’t know where all these armchair soccer experts came from all of a sudden, but if you think drawing with an England team that played like that is indicative of a squad ready for prime time, you are wrong. This is not to say the US won’t pick it up. Like every team, they’re feeling their way through the early stages. They have a great keeper and their midfield can knock it around. With a bit of luck, they may end up doing pretty well. But we didn’t see any signs the balance of power is shifting. Tomorrow’s game against Slovenia will be the real test. Anything less than a 2-goal comfortable win will be a disappointment for me.
  • That said, England looked terrible. I don’t know how many times it needs to be shown, but Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard cannot play next to each other. They’re like brothers who think their mother is favoring the other one. England needs to get Gerrard out on the wing. Hopefully Gareth Barry can come in and provide a little defense. I also think they need to get Peter Crouch in there. A lot of crosses this cup have been very dangerous, and having someone to aim at might help with scoring.
  • The most disappointing side so far have been France. They looked mediocre against Uruguay and even worse against Mexico today. They hit about 30 free kicks into the middle of the wall. They looked sort of like the team of 11 year olds that didn’t have anyone capable of kicking the ball in the air. They had little pace and never really looked like they would score. They have a lot of talent. Maybe they should have fired Domenech.
  • I’ve often been hard on ESPN in this space, but credit where credit is due. So far, the announcing has been excellent. They’ve gone with 4 English play-by-play guys who have been terrific. They’ve been funny and insightful. Also, they have such a way with words. American play-by-play guys don’t have the same ability to paint a picture of the action, even the good ones. If Gus Johnson were calling these games, we’d hear something like, “Rooney, in to Heskey. Heskey lays it for Gerrard! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!” Versus something like, “Lovely ball in to Tevez, who dances by Park Si-Yoon, flick on to Messi. Always at his best when he’s running at the heart of defense. Danger here for the Koreans. Oh, what work from Messi to find a bit of space… What a strike! Only the merest of touches to send it over the bar!”
  • As hard as it is to believe, the color guys have even been good. They’ve got one American, one Englishman, a Scot, and a Nigerian, the wonderfully biting Efan Ekoku. They’ve been willing to criticize the players, the managers, and the refs. They’ve been great.
  • I’ve discovered the greatest Soccer nerd site of all time, the ridiculously in-depth Zonal Marking. Warning: if you don’t really care about the differences between a 4-1-3-2 and a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, or why a 3-5-2 with active wingers is best against a team with a single striker who holds the ball up, you may not be interested. But for the rest of you, it’s really interesting to see how in-depth soccer tactics really can be. Speaking as someone whose knowledge of tactics stopped at “you cover this guy,” it’s really opened up my eyes to all the little things a soccer manager has to keep track of.
  • And on the flip side of that coin, Rick Reilly, who I swear at one point was a funny, insightful columnist, has written the worst thing ever written about soccer. My fellow Americans, we soccer fans do not really care if you do not like soccer. We understand it’s hard to watch a sport with little scoring. It’s hard to appreciate the nuances of the game if you don’t really care to learn why things happen when they do. Soccer players look ridiculous when they flop around and grab their knee whenever someone sneezes next to them. But when you deride the sport, you’re really just showing your own ignorance. Believe it or not, a well-played 0-0 draw can be exciting to watch, as you would have seen if you’d watched the Cote d’Ivoire-Portugal game. Don’t try to give everyone advice that really amounts to the same advice you give every other sport, to be more like football. As if the game would be more exciting if goals counted as 7 points and every time there was a foul, they showed 5 minutes of commercials. Or maybe whenever there’s a play where it’s hard to tell the ball went out of bounds, we can stop the game so the ref can go look at a screen under a hood like an 18oos photographer taking battlefield portraits of General Hooker. If you don’t want to watch, don’t. But stop acting holier than thou about it.
  • So far, the only team that’s been really impressive is Germany, but hey, it’s only one game. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

The NBA Finals and the Shadow of Donaghy

Posted in Sports on June 9, 2010 by fieldingmellish

So far the Celtics-Lakers series has been reasonably entertaining. The games have been pretty close, the players have worked hard, and the energy has been high. It certainly feels like it’s shaping up to be a classic finals. The one thing that can ruin it? The refs. And they’ve started pretty well.

Since the Tim Donaghy disaster came out, the NBA has done absolutely nothing to dispel the rumors that the officiating is a disaster. Rather, the official policy seems to be “let’s do nothing and hope people forget that our refs are literally fixing games.” Perhaps it’s working from a PR standpoint*, but from a sports aspect, it’s pretty apparent that something needs to be done soon, or the NBA is going the way of pro cycling.

*And if you need PR, there’s no better team to do your dirty work than the ABC announcing team. I was legitimately convinced that Breen, Van Gundy, and Jackson were one of the best teams in all of sports. My respect drops every time one of them says “that’s a great call!” on an obviously botched call. Each second of silence after a terrible non-call makes me like them less. If this series goes to seven games, they’ll be in Joe Morgan territory. On the bright side, Kim Jong-Il would do well to hire them to announce North Korea’s World Cup matches.

First, it’s staggering that the NBA would assign a referee to a Celtics game who filed a grievance against Doc Rivers last season. It goes without saying that anyone in such a position should be watching future Celtics games from his recliner. I don’t want to sound like a whiny homer, even though I do think the Celtics have gotten the worst of it this series. I think Lakers guards have gotten away with more handchecks, the Celtics have been called for more tickytack off the ball fouls, and I’m not sure, but someone in the Lakers frontcourt owes Kendrick Perkins dinner after this series for all the groping he’s taken. But every time I get worked up about it, I remember that Perkins has yet to set a clean pick and Rajon Rondo fouls someone every time he does his little open-the-door-then-try-to-strip-the-guy-from-behind play. So maybe the Lakers have gotten more calls, especially in the paint, but it hasn’t been a travesty.

But if you’re like me, you noticed the ridiculousness of that last statement. At this point, we’re hoping that the bad calls against one team even out the bad calls against the other. Rather than which team plays better deciding games, we’re in “I hope the refs don’t fuck this one up too bad” territory. Say what you will about Major League Baseball. When an umpire misses a call, he hears about it. Announcers blast the umps all the time. The league office occasionally descends from high to issue a “stern warning” to misfit umpires. What has David Stern done to allay fears that the refs are taking over what should be an all-time classic series?

It’s a cliche to say that sports should be decided on the field by the players, not by the refs or umps. But all cliches have an element of truth to them. We’re going to get to see a lot of hilariously bad officiating in the World Cup over the next month. But even the worst refs in soccer can’t decide a game short of awarding stupid penalty shots or cards. And when they do that, they get pilloried in the press and FIFA gets involved. NBA refs have a ridiculously hard job, sure. We all know how the difference between a block and a charge requires chalkboards filled with Calculus to call correctly. And it’s not helped by the diving, either*. That said, there are three officials per game. This is literally the most important series of the year. How is it possible that the NBA cannot find 3 refs that can call a good game?

*Americans like to make fun of Soccer players because of the diving. Basketball players not only dive more than soccer players, they complain to the refs more too. We need to start giving out yellow cards to people like Derek Fisher and Glen Davis for diving anytime someone dribbles near them.

There has been an average of 53 total fouls called per game so far. The stereotype is that playoff sports are tougher and grittier, but so far all we’ve seen is a bunch of pointless off-the-ball fouls called on incidental contact, inconsistent calls on drives to the basket, loose balls, and big men in the paint. Both coaches have spent a lot of time complaining about the officiating. What if this continues? For all the bleating about the Rivalry and Tradition and other Capitalized Words, the NBA has been extremely lucky since the Donaghy scandal broke. They’ve been able to coast because fans want to watch the Celtics and the Lakers and they want to believe the players are fighting for history. But with all the questions mounting, it’s possible that David Stern could end up with a nightmare PR scenario, where the series is decided by the refs. No matter how much they try to play up the teams and the games, if the series continues like this, questions will get asked. Because while the reopening of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry may have helped wipe the refereeing scandal under the rug, any lingering doubts about the integrity of the officials will be magnified and blown out of proportion. It’s a double-edged sword, and the NBA is wielding it pretty irresponsibly.

If I were David Stern, I would at least acknowledge the situation. Even the old Bud Selig gem of “we’re looking into it with our blue-ribbon committee” would be better than silence and speculation. He needs to buckle down and get his best refs involved for the rest of the series. And then, in the offseason, he needs to start totally overhauling the league’s officiating structure. Of course, he won’t. He’ll stand in the court, hand the trophy to Phil Jackson or Doc Rivers, grin that shit-eating grin of his, then go back to trying to fix the biggest American sporting problem today with silly putty and a pie in the face. And in the meantime, he’ll be quietly driving one of the major sports leagues into the ground because he’s too proud to admit there’s something wrong.

Say what you will about Gary Bettman. At least they let ’em play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

MNF Livebloggin’

Posted in Sports with tags , on November 30, 2009 by fieldingmellish

Disclaimer: I know much less about football than I do about Baseball or Golf or anything else I usually liveblog. So this is going to be a more casual, more laid back post than usual. NOW LET’S ROCK THIS SHIT! Continue reading

Bill Simmons Annoys Me

Posted in Sports with tags , on November 3, 2009 by fieldingmellish

Well, that’s about the worst I can say about him. But in Part 2 of his conversation with Will Leitch for New York Magazine, he says something that is, to put it mildly, unsupported by evidence. Get ready for some more FJM Memorial tags!

See, I feel like the NBA is doing better than baseball and the ratings would certainly back that up. The last three World Series were the lowest rated ever. Baseball’s audience gets older each year, and they aren’t replacing it with younger fans, whereas that’s the NBA’s wheelhouse right now. The NBA is grabbing those kids between YouTube, video games, sneakers, and everything else. So that’s one problem. I also think baseball has a real credibility issue with sports fans in terms of trust (because of the steroids thing, which has tainted the past two decades, basically), and the time of the games (interminable); basketball doesn’t have either of those issues (although it does have the lousy ref issue). The union runs baseball; Stern runs basketball. Big difference. And baseball has turned into a small-market/big-market sport — the NBA is protected from that happening to some degree because of its draft and salary cap.

The biggest thing in the NBA’s favor: Don’t they have ten times as many marketable players? Name five baseball players under 30 that could sell a shoe or be the focal point of a commercial. Basketball has, like, fifteen of those guys. And LeBron and Kobe are bigger than any baseball player, by far, nobody comes close. There’s no star power in baseball anymore. It’s pretty much gone. I think baseball is in more trouble than people realize. Part of the reason attendance remained relatively strong is because teams keep opening new stadiums and coming up with these “buy four tickets for the price of one and get four free hot dogs” deals. Well, what happens in 2016 after the new stadium rush has worn off? That’s what I want to see. And again, the length of the games is interminable. For us, we’re used to it. No 12-year-old kid wants to spend four hours watching a baseball game.

Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy. Why do you have to do this to me? I know you love the NBA. I know you’ve been a little colder towards Baseball since 2004.* You can make all the excuses you want. You can whine about how all the stats are too complicated and there aren’t enough big stars and the games are on too late. Guess what? You have become everything you used to hate about sports columnists. You have adopted a cranky opinion, and heavens to Murgatroyd, you’re sticking to your guns.

*It’s almost as if he decided that he’d made his millions riding the wave of Red Sox win World Series! hangers-on and decided to back out. I really thought you were a real fan, Simmons. But by giving up on the team and losing interest after 2004, you have proven to be the worst kind of Boston fan: the guy who’s only happy with losing.

Look, I am as much of a Simmons apologist as anyone. I have spent more than one night smoking pot and reading his old columns. When people make fun of his homerism, I’m there to defend him. When people accuse him of making the same jokes over and over, I stand up and argue violently on his behalf. In short, I have snacked on many a Simmons-sausage over the years. So this idiotic comment puts me in an awkward position.

It’s not his fault he hates numbers, since numbers killed and ate his first pet when he was three. And it’s not his fault this interview was posted before the World Series was a ratings smash for Fox. But this is the kind of knee-jerk, gut reaction flimflam you’d expect from a Bill Plaschke or a Tim McCarver. Just say what you feel, then invent a plausible sounding reason afterwards. Here’s Bill’s argument, broken down:

“I’m just going to assume the NBA has more marketable stars”

This is not exactly good evidence for the rise of basketball over baseball. I mean, just because you love the people in the NBA doesn’t mean everyone does. I mean, I personally can name a bunch of young baseball stars, while I cannot do the same for basketball. This is not evidence either, but I’m not claiming that something totally new is happening.

“Baseball fans are old, NBA fans are young.”

Uh, ok. That sounds like pretty complicated demographic work you’d have to do to ascertain the average age of each sport’s fans. I’d be interested to see your reasoning.

“YouTube.”

Ah, well, that’s not a reason, that’s a website. You can put dunks on YouTube, but you can also put ridiculous defensive plays and home runs and Julio Lugo grabbing his crotch on there.

Well, the only reason attendance has overperformed in this terrible economy is because of expensive new ballparks.”

OK, now you’re definitely just making shit up. I demand to see the Excel spreadsheet and regression analysis you’ve done to support this. And also, since when was the NBA known for it’s boffo attendance?

I want David Stern to hire me.

I know, Bill. You hate unions, you love David Stern. The line “ The union runs baseball; Stern runs basketball. Big difference” is meaningless. This is not self-evidently a good thing for the NBA, no matter how good David Stern’s balls taste.

Baseball has big markets and small markets and basketball doesn’t because of the celery cap and the droft!

I fucking hate this argument so much. If one could strangle concepts, I would have a piano wire around this thing’s neck right now. It’s been debunked a bazillion times, but let me let an NBA man spell it out for you: Bill Simmons’ NBA preview, 10/23: “…we know how it’s going to play out — the Spurs, Celtics, Lakers, Cavs and Magic in some order, then everyone else…” He then explains why he’s still interested despite this situation. Except THIS IS THE EXACT FUCKING THING YOU JUST ACCUSED BASEBALL OF BECOMING! You only care because your team is one of the five! Do you think the 76ers fans and Hawks fan are excited by this development?

Look, I understand it’s annoying to have to continually talk about how the Yankees payroll is ridiculous and the haves and the have-nots and blabbity blah, bleepity blow. Last year, the Rays played the Phillies in the World Series. In fact,  let’s look at these lists:

  • LA, Orlando, LA, Boston, San Antonio, Cleveland, Dallas, Miami, San Antonio, Detroit, LA, Detroit
  • New York, Philly, Philly, Tampa Bay, Boston, Colorado, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Boston, St. Louis

These are the teams that have played in the Finals/World Series since 2004. So, um, which one has more parity? I would say baseball, but even if it’s not clear, it’s pretty obvious baseball is at the very least equal to basketball. And you have already written off all but 5 teams for the upcoming season. So, yeah. Get those fans involved.

See, when you actually analyze the points he’s making, they make no sense. Bill is no stranger to idiotic, gut-based arguments. But this is a new low. I expected better than this, Simmons. It’s not like I’m going to stop reading. But you’re better than this, Bill. Put at least you’re starting to get why I love soccer. So one step forward, one step back into a huge pile of dog crap covered nails.

Ah, Memories

Posted in Sports on October 14, 2009 by fieldingmellish

It’s taken approximately four billion years for life to evolve from some sort of self-replicating ribozyme into a creature, man, whose brain is able to complete the difficult task of assigning a good hitter to DH.

Junior

Sigh. After rereading the archives for awhile, I realized I miss Fire Joe Morgan more than is healthy for someone my age.

A Few Thoughts on Twins-Tigers

Posted in Sports with tags on October 7, 2009 by fieldingmellish

Yes, this is late, since the Twins are already losing to the New Jeter Jeters, but I can’t help myself.

  • I love playoff baseball. I think the sport with the best playoffs compared to the regular season is probably hockey, but that’s only because I like baseball so much. There’s something about the insane crowds, the tension of every pitch, the endless viagra commercials, the phrase “everyone is available” followed by a shot of a starter warming up in the bullpen on two days rest. And yes, I feel like I should be wearing suspenders and standing in front of a bunch of old baseball players in a corn field.
  • That said, baseball easily has the worst announcers of any major sport. Well, that’s not true. There’s no Jim Nantz in baseball. But there is Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. And now it looks like TBS is going to unmercifully subject us to Chip Carey and Ron Darling. Now I thought Carey was a sucker for underdogs, since last year he basically spent the whole ALCS stroking himself and talking about Carl Crawford. But not half an hour ago, he ejaculated all over the microphone after Captain Intangibles hit a home run. So basically, he’s just out to annoy me.
  • I used to think Ron Darling was ok, but last night he basically said that the idea of the “Quality Start” stat (6 IP, 3 ER or fewer) would have been laughable in the old days. He was implying that in the old days, starters pitched 6 innings and gave up fewer than three runs every time they went out there. Also, the grass was greener and there were no steroids and children played the game on the sandlots and men were men and blah blah blah. To his credit, Darling himself averaged 2.87 runs per 6 innings and 6.5 IP/Start in his pitching days. That said, shut up. No one could hit in the 1980s.
  • It was a hell of a game. Strategy, intrigue, all that jazz. It’s too bad that we’ll all forget that Jim Leyland left Fernando Rodney out there for over 3 innings. All an American League manager has to do is write a lineup and manage the bullpen. It’s shocking that in the biggest game of the season one of the managers couldn’t even do that.
  • Predictions: Yankees in 3, Red Sox in 4, Cardinals in 4, Phillies in 3. Yes, I will actually predict a sweep once in awhile, unlike everyone at ESPN.
  • Raburn’s slide in the 10th was the dumbest play I’ve seen in awhile. No, he didn’t make up for it by throwing out Casilla. They never should have been in a position for that to be the winning run in the first place!
  • A lineup of commercials: Viagra, Avodart, Avocados(?!), Budweiser, Charles Schwab, Plavix (or something) – It’s pretty obvious who TBS thinks will be watching these games. I think all women and men under 70 should be offended by this development. They should be required to have one commercials for the Nintendo Wii or something.
  • LCS predictions: Yankees in 7, Cardinals in 6. Blech. I hope I’m wrong, but the Jeters are, um, really good.
  • That said, I think the Red Sox have the best rotation in the AL- potentially. They would need Beckett to pitch like Beckett and Buccholz to be good enough that Matsuzaka doesn’t have to start more than once or twice. If they are, hey, you never know, right?
  • Yeah, I think the Jeters will sweep the Cards. And we’ll be subject to an unlimited number of stories about how Derek Jeter gritted and gamed his way to a championship, going 28 for 14 in the World Series with 61 homers and 94 runs batted in and 58 winning smiles flashed, while breaking the records for both gratuitous mentions by announcers with 412* and gamer grittiness with 123 intangibles intangibilated.

*The postseason record is 381, by David Eckstein in ’06. He broke the record held by Bobby Richardson since 1961. The all-time leader in all sports is of course Brett Favre, who just earned his 11 bazillionth unwarranted mention by a sports announcer when a Pakistani Cricket commentator praised him for his grittiness during the third test match against Australia.

  • Even though the Tigers lost, Brandon Inge’s diving stop should go down as one of the best plays under pressure of the decade. It will not, of course, since his team lost and his name doesn’t rhyme with Ferek Fleter.

Hopefully I’ll have a chance to do some live blogging for at least one of the games during the Sox-Angels series. Stay tuned!