Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The LPGA speaks the English

Not sure if you noticed this tidbit coming out of the LPGA, but the women's golf tour is now going to require all golfers to speak passable English to the media and while giving victory speeches. Now I don't ordinarily care all that much (and frankly prior posts indicate I don't care at all) about the LPGA, but this caught my attention.

After going to an LPGA event deemed "The World Match Play Championships", it struck me as kind of shady that the powers-that-be in women's golf want only English spoken. It's very American centric, considering the best current women's golfer is from Mexico (Lorena Ochoa), the best ever is from Sweden (Annika Sorenstam), and the only other I know of is from Korea (Se Ri Pak). Oh you want concrete numbers? Here they are: There are 121 international golfers in the LPGA, 45 of who are from South Korea (you know, the good one). And during a recent 11-tournament stretch, eight were won by players from the so-called "Good Korea".

This is what the LPGA should be focused on: exploiting their athletes so men can pin them up on their walls. I'm not even sure who this is (actually it's Anna Rawson, an American) but she's just hot.

But numbers aside, apparently my concerns with this policy were raised by a few others. And it seems this isn't just American ego centrism at its finest, it's also probably not going to happen, since enforcing this sort of thing is illegal:

So-called English-only rules in the workplace are an emerging body of law; the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in. One high-profile recent case, still pending, centered on a Connecticut sheet-metal factory that made English compulsory. The attorney for the workers, Steven D. Jacobs, tells "Over the last 10 years, there have been a number of decisions in this area, and the courts have consistently decreed that it is permissible for an employer to mandate English-only for two narrow reasons: safety" — air-traffic control being an obvious example — "and efficiency" — such as telephone customer service.

"And that's it," Jacobs continued. "With regards to the LPGA, safety is obviously a non-factor. So the issue becomes, is the language a player speaks fundamental to the competition? I would not want to be the one who has to make that case. Language and national origin are inextricable. The LPGA is making English a precondition of access. That's a classic no-no. I don't see how this will stand up in court if a player challenges it."

So that should solve that right?

Now the LPGA is saying there won't be strict penalties if a player doesn't speak the English, and instead a training program will be instituted to get said player up to speed speaking-wise. Media-wise, I guess this makes sense because I hate dealing with translators. But with the economy the way it is, what if a bunch of leagues start doing this? What will the translators do? Thinking about it more closely, doesn't having training in lieu of penalties essentially make the LPGA an ESOL program. They are teaching people to speak the English. I guess it's noble of them when you really get down to the nitty gritty.

App State a year later

It was about three weeks ago that I was sitting in a subway heading uptown to visit some friends back in my New York City days (as if that was longer than a week ago). I was listening to my ipod, minding my on business, when in walked this family (clearly tourists) and the father was sporting a huge gut with an even bigger Appalachian State t shirt.

Of course, seeing that name, that school got my attention away from the tunes and back to that fateful day last September when my heart was ripped out of my football soul. I immediately started shaking my head, thinking of something creative to say to this man without coming off as a creepy New Yorker (having lived there for two summers, I can tell you there are plenty). See, a year ago, I wouldn't have even noticed this man or his t shirt. But this isn't last year for Michigan fans. All I could come up with was a "you're killing me with that shirt, I went to Michigan."

The big guy just laughed it off, and started talking about how they could make it two in a row since LSU was foolish enough to put the Mountaineers on its schedule this season.

The world of college football was turned on its head when Appalachian State, led by quarterback Armanti Edwards, walked into the Big House and defeated Big Blue and its aura of mystique last season. I think everyone watching in the stadium or on television that day knew something historic was going on when that last-gasp field goal was blocked and the App State players stormed the field.

Now it's a year later, and I think it's important to take a look at just how dramatically things have changed for both teams since that upset occurred. Most significantly, the loss put into perspective just how behind-the-times the Michigan football program was as App State's spread offense sliced and diced Lloyd Carr's antiquated team. Now the Wolverines are all shiny new and advanced looking under Rich Rodriguez, and I think the opening loss from a year ago is a major reason why he isn't in Morgantown anymore. But everyone knows about all the changes that have gone on in Ann Arbor, so what about down in App State country.

Well, in today's Washington Post, there's an interesting little articleabout just how much has changed for coach Jerry Moore, his Mountaineers, and all of college football for that matter.

Coach Jerry Moore stopped on the edge of the Appalachian State practice field one day this preseason, turned and gazed at what his football program has become. To his right, a new turf practice field rested next to an under-construction, 120,000-square-foot complex the height of a seven-story building. To his left, Moore saw a new upper deck for Kidd Brewer Stadium, packed with 4,400 new seats. In total, the view equated to a nearly $50 million flex of might.

Moore had watched "Monday Night Football" days earlier, and the mention of one of his former players prompted a conversation among the announcers, heard nationwide, about the 16,000-student school in Boone, N.C. The quarterback he followed off the practice field, a whippet-thin charge of energy named Armanti Edwards, has been mentioned as a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender.

"This all wouldn't have happened," Moore said, "without Michigan."

I'd say that quote at the end kind of sums things up nicely. These schools have reached unprecedented heights starting with the App State debacle and concluding with another Michigan slap in the face when I-AA Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco was the second quarterback selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, ahead of Chad Henne.

But it hasn't been all peaches and cream for App State and the schools like it. Apparently, lining up additional big time opponents for the future has been a little tougher now that they went into the Big House and showed their stuff. Apparently, the Mountaineers already had their future schedules lined up with games against LSU, Florida, Virginia Tech, and Georgia before they defeated Michigan. However, Appalachian State is missing a 1-A opponent for 2009, when star quarterback Armanti Edwards will be a senior, and there aren't any takers who want to face a veteran-laden, knows how to win the big game App State.

Athletic Director Charlie Cobb said at least 25 teams have turned him down. Some schools have sent e-mails proclaiming they need a game. Cobb responded immediately, only to receive a reply saying they had found an opponent. Other athletic directors have called Cobb, telling him a division I-A school just called looking for a game. When Cobb calls the I-A athletic director, he's told the schedule is full.

"It's comical, some of the responses I've got," Cobb said. "The thing I've never understood truly, athletics is about competition. It's about who's good and who's not. At some point, step up and play people. Scheduling is not as complicated as people make it out to be."

I really recommend reading the whole article. It's definitely an interesting perspective on what has gone down in 1-AA football since App State's miraculous (yes, I'm still calling it a fluke) win. And next time I see an App State fan, I'm hoping to have something much wittier to say to them. Michigan needs to beat that school to the punch in something.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I swear I'll brb

I'm in the middle of transitioning from intern biotch/writer at the New York Sun to being big fish in a little pond here at Connection Newspapers. Transforming from a biotch to a baracuda-sized writer takes time, though, so the posts will be a little infrequent for the next few days.

I'll leave you with this quote from SI involving my man, Jim Bowden, and his decision to not sign the Nats 1st round draft choice, Aaron Crow, even though the team may be worse than that group of Hawaiians who dominated the Little League World Series:

Aaron Crow, who rejected the Nats' $3.3-million offer to sign with the Forth Worth Cats, tells Eric SanInocencio of Baseball Digest Daily Live that he would prefer if Washington picked someone else next year. Crow said after he was picked, he "didn't hear back from (GM Jim Bowden) for the rest of the month.''

For the record, the draft was on June 7, meaning Bowden decided to wait about three weeks before making contact. If he blames this on the secretary, I'm really going to be mad.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Let the Fire Jim Bowden Death March BEGIN!

I'm back in DC, and for the most part things are going well. I found out I'm allowed to wear a t-shirt and shorts to work, I figured out my coverage area, and I have cable again (which is probably the biggest positive). But being back in the nation's capital has also forced me to take a hard look at this city's baseball team.

Now the Nationals did do something good last night, snapping a 12-game losing streak against the Phillies (and subsequently leaving the Fightin' Phils 2.5 games behind the Mets). There's no getting around it, though, the Nats have reached unprecedented lows since they arrived in the area and there's just no beating around the ugly bush that has become this team's 45-83 record (the worst in baseball).

And up until a couple weeks ago, I felt like I was one of the few really criticizing the team. Luckily, criticism has picked up in recent weeks as the Nats have become the whipping boy for teams in the middle of pennant races who are desperately searching for wins. But if you've watched this team, you know the answer to the problems. Now in its fourth season of existence, the Washington Nationals have had just three players who can legitimately be considered key ingredients for a playoff team. One was drafted (3B Ryan Zimmerman), another just got traded (RP Jon Rauch) and the other played just a season for the team (Alfonso Soriano).

Other than that, every player brought in or is still here since the team was moved from Montreal is either irrelevant or marginal at best. And you know who the only prominent personnel employee who began with the team four years ago and is still currently with the team: JIM BOWDEN!!!

How many times do I need to put Jim Bowden's mugshot on this website.

I've said it for two seasons now, the guy is useless and shouldn't be allowed to run a baseball team. He was never successful constructing the Reds back in the mid-to-late 90s when he put far too much weight into Ken Griffey, Jr. saving the franchise. When he kept getting hurt, it was easy to notice the rest of the team was badly overmatched. And evidence is now currently mounting higher and higher that seems to point towards Jim Bowden's imminent downfall with the Nationals.

I would argue every single one of Jim Bowden's moves, have in the end, been either fruitless and seriously devastatiing. But recently his mistakes have been especially egregious. Basically, he's got a bad reputation and may have just dug his own grave in the past several weeks. When you have the worst team in baseball, someone in the national media is bound to take notice, if only because they want to be the first to break firings and hirings. Well, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman is the first to join my chorus:

Bowden's job status would figure to remain uncertain longterm under the current conditions, which include the team's worst-in-baseball 45-83 record. But for now, his bosses are backing him on key issues in conversations with other top baseball people. Those issues include both the failure to sign No. 1 draft choice Aaron Crow and reports that Bowden is being investigated in baseball's scout skimming scandal.

Ahhh, the worst team in baseball has decided to stop signing draft picks. Excellent thinking by management. Oh, wait, the management sucks and apparently wants Jim Bowden to keep steering this ship into the middle of nowhere. See, they blame the non-signing of a first-roound draft pick on the kid's agents, and of course, the scout skimming investigation is all due to erroneous media reports.

There's no excuse for this foolish trade, though:

Several competing GMs criticized the Nationals for trading productive reliever Jon Rauch in a market bereft of bullpen stars for second-base prospect Emilio Bonifacio, a speed and glove man who one scout said "will struggle with the breaking ball.''

To me, the success of this team is dependant on Bowden getting fired. The Washington Nationals franchise has for the most part stayed in neutral since it came into existance, and it is about time things got shook up. This is the perfect confluence of poor on the field personnel decisions combining with shaky off the field mistakes.

The Lerner family, which owns the team, needs to get off its high horse and do something. Their owner honeymoon period should be over by now, and it's time to hold them to the same standards people like Abe Pollin (Wizards) and Dan Snyder (Redskins) are held to.

Whether it means giving Stan Kasten (the Nats President and former architect of the Braves dynasty) more control over personnel decisions or bringing something else in, I think it's obvious Bowden has got to go. He's done nothing for this franchise's long term success and even his short term solutions have been largely inadequate.


So join in, this is going to be a fun ride. We're going to get Jim Bowden fired. For the sake of DC Baseball.

*Disclaimer: This post failed to mention other slightly less important, but equally stupid Jim Bowden atrocities:

1) not trading Alfonso Soriano before the trading deadline a couple years back, therefore receiving nothing for him after the team didn't re-sign him in the offseason 2) bringing in some players with shaky reputations (Wily Mo Pena — .205 BA, Elijah Dukes — .264 BA 6HR, Lastings Milledge .261 BA ) who have all flopped 3) bringing in players that have been largely irrelevant or aren't even with the team anymore (Paul Lo Duca, Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns), 4) mistakenly re-signing mediocre players at positions they didn't need them (Dmitri Young or Nick Johnson, Ronnie Belliard, Ryan Langerhans).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

This would have been helpful three years ago

Remember the thrill you used to get when that fake ID got you into a bar after spending an agonizing amount of minutes in line showing everyone you knew a license of Robert Lafleur from Smithton, Massachusetts, asking endlessly if people thought it looked remotely like you?

Well, apparently the Presidents of numerous high-profile universities around the country no longer want you to be worrying about such nonsense:

College presidents from about 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth, and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age to 18 from 21, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.

I was going to post about this yesterday, but was traveling from Brooklyn to Potomac. When I first heard about this, I wasn't sure whether to be happy for people like my little brother, who is going to Penn State and hasn't even turned 18 yet, or to be pissed off that I had to go through fake ID after fake ID during college.

Turns out the news was too good to be true. A day after the Presidents' initiative went public, there's been a ton of dissent on this issue. According to the Washington Post, it seems as if many Americans take the view that it's okay to send 18-year-olds off to war, but it's somehow terrible to let them have a beer:

Safety advocates say the legal drinking age of 21 saves about 900 lives every year. And Laura Dean-Mooney, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said people look to college presidents "for their leadership role on their campuses. It just seems like they didn't do enough homework to look at the science on this."

Other critics said the university leaders are trying to avoid being held liable for enforcing the drinking age and are kicking the problem to others. "I'm an alumnus of Dickinson College and can't believe they signed on to this initiative," said Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association. "They are really just punting on the issue and leaving the high school principals to deal with it. Very disappointing."

Ahhh, but like a high school nerd looking to re-shape his image within the drunken realm of freshman year, there is hope:

Although polling has shown that the public strongly opposes lowering the drinking age, there has been some consideration of it this year, "way more so than in the past," said Matthew Gever, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Minnesota, Kentucky, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Vermont have considered bills. In Minnesota, a measure that would have let anyone 18 and older drink in bars and restaurants failed. In Vermont, legislators set up a committee to study the topic. The bills in Kentucky, South Carolina and Wisconsin, also unsuccessful, were aimed at changing the rules for members of the military.

Unfortunately, in order to advance our society past the days of fake IDs, there's going to be a need for more legislation than just altering the drinking age. Back in the 70s, when Congress was in pursuit of changing the drinking age back to 21 after the Vietnam War, they decided to throw federal highway appropriations into the mix. Any state that didn't adopt a 21-and-over drinking age would be docked 10 percent of their highway money. And no state is currently going to sacrifice valuable infrastructure money just so a bunch of teenagers can get their Smirnoff Ice legally.

Here was my favorite part of the Washington Post article, though. Gotta love tidbits like this in a hard news story:

Will Porter, a 21-year-old economics major at U-Md., said that one of the favorite games in his fraternity is for 10 guys to pass around a handle of bourbon until it's gone. About a month ago, he said, he drank seven shots of whiskey and six glasses of Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola at a bar near campus. He doesn't remember much else.

We play similar games called "drink the beer" and "pass that pitcher til it's gone", which have similar ramifications to those faced by Will Porter. I would explain further, but I don't remember much else when I play those games.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Let the Phelps mojo roll on

It seems like the past week or so has been all about Michael Phelps and his Olympic achievements, so naturally my thoughts turned to how much money the swimmer extraordinaire is going to make off his exploits — I figured a whole bunch.

Phelps will make lots of money to do this from now on.

Since it's impossible to calculate just how much Phelps is worth now and what he might be worth in the future, I've used snippets of info I've gleaned off the web to give you a ballpark range. Essentially, this is the gold mine Michael Phelps has discovered, likely making him pretty wealthy the rest of his life. According to ESPN:

Entering the Beijing Games, Phelps was reportedly earning an estimated $5 million from corporate endorsements, with deals from companies like AT&T, Visa, PowerBar, HiltonHotels, Omega and Speedo.

According to the Wall Street Journal, who interviewed Phelps's agent, Peter Carlisle:

Carlisle expects Phelps' current annual earnings of between $3 million to $5 million to at least double.

"What is the value of eight golds in Beijing before a prime-time audience in the U.S?" Carlisle told the newspaper. "I'd say $100 million over the course of his lifetime."

Oh, and about those endorsement possibilities. Obviously a corporate giant like Nike wants a piece of that action:

Howard Bloom, who teaches sports management at Algonquin College in Ottawa and has worked with several Olympic athletes, says the key decision for Mr. Phelps will be whether to renew his contract with Speedo, the swimsuit maker that sponsors Mr. Phelps and offered him $1 million if he won seven gold medals.

"Michael Phelps would be worth $40 or $50 million to Nike," Mr. Bloom said. "He could literally allow them to launch a massive swimwear company, and I think you are going to see an incredible bidding war for him."

There's more, too:

Phelps also will be the spokesman for the beverage PureSport, which is about to launch its first national ad campaign with the swimmer. Phelps and the rest of the men's and women's U.S. swim teams are receiving free pizza and pasta for a year from Pizza Hut. Another one of his sponsors, Kellogg Co., is also looking into possible deals. Plus, he's hearing from potential consumers online -- reportedly 795,000 people have signed up as fans of Phelps on Facebook.

Basically, unless he's a total fool (which I don't think he is) Phelps is going to cash in big time. I didn't even include the types of appearance fees Phelps could demand speaking for corporate events, signing autographs somewhere, and other things of that nature. Although I could totally see Phelps being the type of person who develops some kind of gambling issue and loses everything. He is from Baltimore, after all. I think we've all seen enough episodes of The Wire to no longer overlook that fact.

Proof Philly fans blow

I think my hate for all things Philly has been well documented on this blog. Well, this whole "Jimmy Rollins calling Philly fans front runners" thing has me about as giddy as a schoolgirl. Finally, the truth about how terrible that city's fans and teams are is coming to light. If you don't know what Rollins said to become public enemy No. 1 in the home of the Liberty Bell, here's a refresher:

""There are times, I might catch some flak for saying this, but, you know, they're front-runners. When you're doing good, they're on your side. When you're doing bad, they're completely against you. When you're doing good, they're on your side ... St. Louis, it seems like they support their team, they're out there and encouraging. In Philly, can't be no punk. "

Apparently, in reaction to the comments by one of the city's best athletes, the people of Philly may finally be wising up to just how terrible they have become. One Philly sports blog is trying to rally the city to actually, you know, be fans of their team:

C'mon everybody, why so glum? I want you calling the radio stations, writing the newspapers, making huge signs to display with pride for our 2nd place team. Enough of all this negativity, they need our support. I know that's difficult after losing to the Padres 8-3, but the boos aren't helping, so it's time for change.

A thoughtful perspective on drugs in baseball

I've told many, but I'm making it official on the blog today. I'm moving back to the Washington, D.C area where I'll be covering high school sports in Northern Virginia. Last Thursday was my last at The New York Sun. It wasn't too shabby of a run there, though. In all, I had 39 bylined stories, which included memorable stories about ridiculousness at Circuit City, a fast food ban, a Bronx-born judo Olympian, me trying to be a ballboy, and me mysteriously calling something an emporium.

So now with the Sun in the rear view mirror, I've begun to return my focus to sports, and specifically topics of interest for high school sports. I had been thinking about a story involving the usage of amphetamines in high school sports, especially with Major Baseball banning their usage as part of its crackdown on steroids and drugs in the game. Well lo and behold, as I was reading the Sun today (which I think I'm going to continue to do even though I don't work there anymore), there was a story about steroids.

The amount of scrutiny given to steroids over the years got to the point that people just didn't want to hear about it anymore. Recently, the attention on the subject has waned. But in today's Sun, Tim Marchman makes a couple observations that make perfect sense and could bring the topic of illegal drug use in baseball back to the surface:

By now, three things are certain. One is that players have either stopped using or, more likely, are good at not getting caught, as baseball has suspended only two major leaguers for stimulant use in the last three years.

The second is that since the ban, an apparent plague of attention deficit disorders has washed over the sport, requiring really stunning numbers of players to obtain therapeutic use exemptions for speed-like drugs such as Ritalin. (One hundred and seven players had such exemptions in 2007, up from 30 in 2006.)

And the third is that in a society where you can buy an energy drink called Cocaine, no man really needs to sit around popping Benzedrine.

To me, all of that makes perfect sense. Obtaining ADD medicine is the next evolution of amphetamines. I think it provides the first example of a loophole in the new drug regulations in sports. These guys are all getting prescription drugs to replace the over the counter stuff. Now, I'm guessing some of the prescriptions are legitimate, but the steep increase seems to indicate some are taking advantage. Remember, there isn't a prescription money can't buy, and these baseball players certainly have plenty of green.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mickey Mouse would have been proud

Earlier this summer, former five-star Michigan running back, Kevin Grady was picked up by police on a DUI charge. He's since been punished internally by Rich Rod and his coaching staff, and is now back to being a third-string running back — something he's become fairly comfortable with after coming to Ann Arbor as the second coming of Ahtony Thomas.

Well, back when the charges unfolded originally, it was revealed this wasn't your ordinary DUI charge because Kevin had had quite a bit to drink that night. In fact, it was .24 BAC worth of drinks, three times the legal limit. I was legitimately shocked he could even do the simplest things required to start a car — like not being able to locate the steering wheel drunk.

Turns out that's not even the beginning. Get ready to laugh and cringe at the same time:

Wyoming Police Officer Kevin Meany says when he approached a white GMC Yukon in the early hours of July 2, the driver, football standout Kevin Grady, was passed out behind the wheel with the car running and in drive. Grady was unconscious and his foot was on the brake. ...

Grady was given a breathalyzer test, which showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.281 -- more than three times Michigan's standard for drunken driving. ...

The officer also wrote that Grady was off-balance and unable to recite the alphabet, with Thompson quoting Grady as saying "O, R, S, J, L, P." Thompson said he asked for a number between 12 and 14, and Grady answered "15." And when asked whether Mickey Mouse is a dog or a cat, he answered "dog."

I don't even think I need a catchy one-liner to that. It's funny just there by itself.

The Olympics are cool again

Is it just me or does it feel like these Beijing Olympic games are the most significant sporting event to have occurred in our lifetime? I realize I'm fairly young, just out of college, but I think what's going down in China is historic.

I thought coming in this would be remembered in the history books simply because of the backdrop of China becoming a truly prominent country, coupled with sometimes atrocious human rights violations for a country of its power. But now, with what has gone down athletically, I really think this is a moment in my sports life that I'll always remember. I just can't get past the my own pure reverance I have of MIchael Phelps — someone of my generation — becoming the greatest Olympian ever. And it means, the games he achieved them in will always stand the test of time.

Well, today comes proof that I'm not the only one basking in the glow of watching greatness go down. According to the ratings, me, my friends, and the rest of the television watching world are ensuring NBC makes tons and tons of money now and in the future:

The network has averaged 30 million viewers in prime time -- on par with the numbers tuning in for "American Idol" -- since the games opened on August 15, and Saturday night's audience peaked at 40 million viewers in the half hour during which the men's 400-meter medley was held.

I must admit, the ratings part of the equation never occurred to me coming in. I figured that sports like swimming and track and field are on television all the time, and therefore people wouldn't be too interested in what went down sports wise. Obviously, I was wrong.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wrestling at an all-time low

There are obviously tons of people out there in the world that deem wrestling (not the Stone Cold Steve Austin kind) as slightly if not humongously homosexual. Since I was a high school wrestler, I clearly disagree with this assumption. It's actually the most challenging sport out with its mixture of strength, speed, athleticism, skill, and smarts. Hell, I even covered the sport extensively in college for the Michigan Daily.

Well even me, the most staunch supporter of wrestling, can't defend this story from Deadspin about a 17-year-old wrestler who just took the sport to an all-time low. See this kid in Connecticut is taking one of his teammates to court over this:

The charges are based on an incident last December during a wrestling team practice session at the school. The 17-year-old victim was wrestling with another teammate, police said, when he allegedly heard the defendant tell his opponent to pin him to the mat. While the victim was pinned on his back, police said, the defendant approached, bent down and exposed his genitals in the victim's face.

The victim managed to free himself and went to a water cooler to rinse out his mouth, declaring, "That was disgusting," according to the police report. The victim was initially reluctant to report the incident, police said, but later came forward after other Bunnell students learned about it.

I don't claim to be some wrestling expert or to know all of the moves out there, but I'm pretty sure teabagging isn't something Dan Gable, Cael Sanderson, or the other American greats had in mind. You never know, the kid may have simply been trying to play that game from the movie "Waiting", and show the kid his batwing.

Things don't look so hot for the Yankees

I wrote about my bet involving the Yankees a couple weeks ago, and at the time I thought I was sitting pretty with the Rays sliding a bit and the Yanks on a mini-surge of their own. Well, let's just say a lot can happen in a little amount of time.

The Yankees have been slipping and sliding for the last week and a half and just completed a brutal road trip that saw them lose seven of 10 games, including two of three against the Twins, a team they trail in the wild card race. On top of all that their injury woes got even worse, and now country boy phenom, Joba Chamberlain, who had been pitching pretty, pretty good as of late, is on the disabled list. He joins the ranks with Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Chien Ming-Wang. To say the least, the road trip was a discouraging stretch for a team that had just come off winning two out of three over the Angels at home, and looked positioned to make their familiar push into the playoffs. Seriously, the playoffs and the Yankees have become synonomous in this decade. The team hasn't missed postseason play since 1993.

But if the Yankees shrug this season off as an anomaly that was simply caused by a rash of injuries, they are sorely mistaken. Quite frankly, the team as it is constituted now is no longer a pennant contending squad. Almost every regular in the lineup is past his prime or underperforming to a certain degree. And it isn't like the other teams in the AL East haven't suffered injuries of their own. The Rays recently lost Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria from a lineup that was already lacking some pop to it. Hell, the Rays are so desperate right now, Rocco Baldelli, who may be the unluckiest and therefore unhealhiest man alive, is getting regular playing time and even batting cleanup on some nights. The Red Sox have been without Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Mike Lowell, and Julio Lugo for extended periods of time as well.

The powers that be in the Yankee organization are likely pointing to the $75 million that comes off its payroll after the season since the contracts of Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Rodriguez, and Latroy Hawkins come off the books once this season ends.

Brian Cashman (who by the way should have entrance music. I think it would be perfect to just use that Beatles song "Taxman" and just superimpose someone going "Cashman" instead)

This works out pretty nicely with players like C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Mark Teixeira, Manny Ramirez, and Adam Dunn entering the free agent market this winter. Still, though, look at the laundry list of players the Yankees will need to replace. In today's New York Sun, Tim Marchman says the Yanks may not be able to improve themselves as much as they may think:

As much money as ($75 million) is, it has to replace a lot — no. 3 and no. 5 hitters, no. 2 and no. 3 starters, and a guy who once spent several months on the disabled list with a strained butt (Pavano). Say the Yankees signed Sabathia for $25 million and Teixeira for $20 million. Say they also picked up Damaso Marte's $6 million option and signed Chicago reliever Bob Howry or some equivalent pitcher for $6 million to help stabilize the young bullpen, and finagled Mussina into coming back for $11 million. That would leave the team short an outfielder, with no regular designated hitter, and just $8 million left to spend on the bench — none of which takes into account the chance that Jorge Posada may not be able to catch next year.

You can play these scenarios out any way you like, but any way you do it, you bump up against limits quickly. Signing Sabathia, Mussina, Abreu, Marte, Howry, and Frank Thomas, for instance, would fill all the holes, at least if you moved an outfielder to first base. It would also come to something like $72 million, leave nearly nothing for the bench or contingencies, and leave the team worse off than they are this year, given the effects of aging.

The simple solution to all of this is for the Yankees disappointing young guns (Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, and Robinson Cano to a lesser extent) stepped up and became inexpensive void fillers. But none of them, especially Kennedy, Hughes, and Cabrera, have shown anything remotely close to the skills necessary to become big time contributors to this team. The bottom line is that the 2008 Yanks aren't going to be able to right themselves simply by shoving money in people's faces.

Now, if they would like to hire me as an outside consultant or better yet, their cleanup hitter, I respond very positively to money being put in front of my face.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Chad has taken his antics to a new level

Well, I'm just going to jump right into this because I just stumbled upon a fantastic story. So we all remember Chad Johnson's stunt last season when he decided to have the name on the back of his jersey changed from "Johnson" to "Ocho Cinco". It wasn't met with laughter by the powers that be in the NFL, and Chad was fined a significant amount of money, something like $5,000, I think.

The other night on Monday Night Football, Chad let it be known that he had some plans for the upcoming season. I, like many, thought that meant another ridiculous touchdown celebration. The first idea that popped into my head was him transforming into a matador once he scores a touchdown, somehow getting hold of cape (maybe have a ball boy on the sideline holding it), and finally have one of his offensive linemen pretend to be a bull. That would definitely be 15-yard penalty and fine worthy, which is what I thought Chad was going for.

Apparently, I was completely off base. Chad's actual idea is soooo much cooler:

Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson was fined $5,000 for wearing “Ocho Cinco” on the back of his jersey before a game in 2006. To avoid getting fined, Johnson hasn’t done it since then. But Johnson now has a plan for how he can get away with having “Ocho Cinco” spelled out over the “85″ on his back.

We’ve learned that Johnson has taken the first steps in the state of Florida toward legally changing his last name to Ocho Cinco. If Johnson follows through on this, his actual, legal name will be Chad Ocho Cinco, and the NFL would then (we assume) allow him to put his new last name on the back of his jersey.

Are you serious??? If he pulls this off, it will be the stuff of legend. Chad Ocho Cinco would join the ranks amongst the great names in all of sports. I'm talking the best of the best like World B. Free and Fat Lever (both of whom were basketball semi-stars from the 80s).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Big Ten vs. SEC revisited

It seems like forever since Ohio State was losing the BCS Championship game to LSU, but praise whatever God you pray to, football season is so close you can smell it.

Now, I bring up the Ohio State loss for several reasons. One, Ohio State lost and that's always fun to revel in time and time again. And two, it seemed to cement for many people the perception that the SEC is a vastly superior conference as compared with everyone else.

Frankly, as much as I'm a Big Ten supporter, I definitely support that notion. Two consecutive National Championships will do that for a conference. That being said, all these crazy southerners who think they are all high and mighty always seem to forget that these conference domination things tend to evolve over time. See, the SEC may be awesome now, but in five years nobody knows who will be on top. And shocker here, it also means conferences that may be suffering from a bit of a downturn (like the Big Ten) were probably much better in the past.

Well rather than stick with vague generalties and remembrances (not sure about that word) from past football seasons, Sports Illustrated decided to actually quantify the conference debate in real figures. Frankly, this is something that is long overdue considering part of the BCS ranking system is based off strength of schedule and therefore the strength of a team's conference plays a large role.

Si calls it their Conference Power Index. In it, each of the six BCS conferences were ranked against each other in five categories: BCS bowl record, percentage of teams in the final AP poll, nonconference performance (as measured by the RPI formula used for basketball), record in other bowl games and NFL draft picks per teams. Six points were awarded for first place, five points for second, etc, with the BCS and top 25 categories -- the most prominent goals of any team or conference -- weighted doubly. And they did this for two time periods: 1998-2003 and 2003-2008.

Here were the findings for 1998-2003:

1. Big Ten
2. SEC
3. Big 12
4. Pac-10
5. Big East
6. ACC

And the findings for 2003-2008:

1. SEC
2. Pac-10
3. ACC
4. Big Ten
5. Big 12
6. Big East

Now after revealing these results, SI goes into lengthy discussion about why the SEC has risen to the top citing high-profile head coaches and very few athletic department scandals for a conference that was known for them back in the day. But what stunned me was just how far the Big Ten has fallen. I thought the conference was weak, but I didn't think it was in the bottom half of the barrel rankings wise.

And interesting point in the debate came from Joe Tiller, Purdue's head coach, who blames high school football for the Big Ten's recent slide:

"Midwest high-school football is still good, but it's not as good as it used to be," said Tiller. "You can have Jake Longs in this league that come from Michigan and play for Michigan, but you can't necessarily find that corner from the state of Michigan that can cover that receiver from the state of Florida."

What's really sad is this is probably just a sign of things to come. With so many big time coaches like Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Les Miles, and Bobby Petrino in the SEC, there's no doubt the conference will continue to reel in the best talent in the nation. Meanwhile, the Big Ten shows no signs of improving as this year looks to be another cake walk for Ohio State in conference.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Michael Phelps Connection

For you cynics out there, the connection is not as simple as Phelps went to Michigan just like me. And no, it doesn't involve this column I wrote at the end of the school year involving Phelps.

No, thanks to Graham's watchful eye, we have a photo detailing my connection to the man who will likely go down as America's greatest swimmer ever.

The picture:

From the cabinets and wood beams in the background, this was clearly taken at my senior year residence, 814 East University.

There's also a picture of Graham's sister up somewhere, but it's kind of unnecessary to post it at this time. The key point of this post is to acknowledge Phelps's love of everything 814.

Highlights from an amazing interview

They've already linked this at Deadspin, but after reading the whole transcript I couldn't resist posting some of the highlights here. See, Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post interviewed Craig Sager of TNT sidelining duties and brightly colored suits while in Beijing If you thought Sager was a bit of a nut job before, wait until you read some of this.

1) When asked about the dance teams at the Olympic basketball games:

Well, have you seen the Red Foxes? Wait to see them. It's the Lithuanian dance team. The blonds? I don't think you've seen them. You'll notice them. They're hot. No, they're really, REALLY hot. They were very popular in Athens. You know, we're here long days. We got here today at 2, and we'll do a game about a 10:15 start. It's real long day. So our camera guys will focus on the Red Foxes. They even came out and watched them practice before the competition.

Especially, you know me, I have a blond fetish, and you don't find many blonds out here. And so when I found out that the Red Foxes were here, I was very, very pleased. Their dance team, the Chinese dance team, doesn't look to me like they've been together long or they've been trained by a U.S. NBA dance team. And I would know, too, because I married one. I married a Luvabull from the Chicago Bulls.

2) When asked about having to wear normal people clothes, eschewing his pastel-colored suits and ties that NBA fans are accustomed to seeing him wear:

Oh my God! It's terrible! I've got to wear this little vest bib! I'm getting a lot of grief from the NBA players. You know, 'Where's your sport coat, where's your tie?' I mean, it's comfortable, but I wish I could liven it up a little bit. The only thing I can do is have this [belt] and have a matching thong. That's about the only thing I can do. ... Yeah. I brought all sorts of different underwear that match my shirt. That's the only thing I can do.

3) When asked more indepth about his blonde fetish:

Oh no. Everybody knows that. EVERYBODY knows that. Bud Light and blonds. So there's a Hooters here, I went to Hooters the other day in Beijing. I've been to probably 250 Hooters across the country and world. It's the only Hooters I've ever been to that didn't have any Bud Light or blonds. I was very disappointed.

Am I the only one that now has a newfound appreciation for all that is Craig Sager? If you get a chance, you should really take a look at the whole article, where he also riffs on being a mascot at Northwestern and the "Redeem Team" making fun of his non-suit wearing ways at these games.

Primal Screaming is weird

The Olympics are a funny beast to fathom. Is it just me, or does it strike you as odd that Americans become totally affixed to watching sports that they don't normally watch at any other time during their life? Think about it, things like gymnastics, swimming, and diving are on television quite a bit, especially if you're looking out for them, yet no one watches them outside the Olympics. The only conclusion I can make is that the attention is warranted since the Olympics are the climax of athletic competition.

Whatever it may be, the first few days of these Beijing games have gotten my attention. Now I'm the first to admit that I have ulterior motives for watching this time around, specifically the fact that I've been writing about them for the Sun. And although it's just a weekend old, last night may have provided American Olympic faithful with their indelible image of these scandal-ridden games. Or, if you're like me, it could be the most horrible image ever witnessed. I think by now it's obvious I'm talking about Michael Phelps's ridiculously maniacal scream and celebration after his 4x100 freestyle relay team mounted what some are calling the greatest comeback in swimming history.

Courtesy of The New York Times

I watched the event in Manhattan last night, and although my friends and I were all screaming at the television as Jason Lezak out touched Alain Bernard, I didn't think it was going to set off a firestorm of "this is the greatest Olympic swim ever" columns. But of course, I was wrong. Here's what Pat Forde of ESPN had to say about it all:

What transpired during the final 50 meters was the stuff of Disney movies. It was the kind of thing that should land Lezak a co-starring role with Phelps on cereal boxes and network morning shows. And if Phelps does complete the great eight and pocket a $1 million Speedo bonus, he should cut a check for one-eighth of that total to the guy who kept the quest alive, Jason Lezak.

And let's not forget Jay Mariotti for the Chicago Sun-Times, who decides to take a climactic moment in American swimming history and turn it into a negative for Phelps:

If you didn't see it, find the tape and give it to all your family members and neighbors. In due time, it might be recalled as the seminal moment of the Beijing Games, non-politics division. For years, assuming Phelps breaks Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in a single Olympiad, we'll be rehashing this frenetic finish as a signature moment of his pursuit. As exhilaration goes, what happened in the final 50 meters of the 4-x-100 freestyle relay was heart-doctor madness. And the drama was required at the Water Cube in part because Phelps -- the dolphin, the magazine cover boy, the face of these Games -- wasn't at his best.

After I watched it all go down, I thought people would be more focused on Phelps oddly barbaric reaction. Usually with an athlete of his stature, you either see pure joy or utter relief after a victory like that relay. Look at that picture above, Phelps looks like someone straight out of Braveheart about to use a stake and drive it through the heart of some unsuspecting victim. Seriously, I've never seen someone celebrate like that.

Earlier in the day, I watched Padraig Harrington clinch the PGA Championship with a nifty par save on the 18th hole, and he definitely looked awkward celebrating. His celebration was at least a fist pump, albeit much less artful than the patented Tiger fist pump. See, the fist pump is one of those go-to celebration things that your body is just trained to do after years of watching other people celebrate. There's also the "We're No. 1" finger salute, the heterosexual man hug, and hell, even clicking your heels seems more natural than what Phelps did.

Seriously, look at that picture again. He appears as if he's about to be staked to a crucifix, it's that painful of a celebration. We'll see if Phelps celebrates tonight, when he goes for his third gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle. I've got a feeling this is the race that ruins his bid for eight golds. I'll gloat tomorrow if I'm on the money.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rich Rod has a brother

I'm back in DC this weekend for an interview with a local newspaper, which is irrelevant to this post other than to give you an update on my life. But it was on the train ride from New York to the nation's capital that it hit me how little I've been talking about Michigan sports on this blog lately.

I know most are very interested in the football team, but as many know I never covered the football team for the Daily, other than a couple stories here and there. So quickly, before I lose your attention, let me just alert you to the fact that John Beilein recently secured the best recruit of his coaching career when he signed 6-foot-3 point guard Darius Morris out of LA. Once winter hits, I'll have more on that team.

Now back to football and the beginning of the Rich Rod era. The team just began practice this week and anticipation is high with the coaches poll placing Michigan at No. 24, overlooking the fact that Michigan basically lost its entire offense. I don't want to go too much into this, but in my opinion, the team probably resides firmly in between that No. 24 ranking and SI's No. 55 designation. It just seems a lot of people are overly giddy about a squad that has to replace its starting QB, RB, and two WRs from a year ago, on top of having an extremely inexperienced offensive line in an offense that doesn't suit the team's skill set just yet anyways. If you want a true preview of what the team looks like heading into practice, I suggest reading Dan Feldman's pre-practice preview over at the Daily's blog, The Game.

One thing I think this year's version of the Wolverines has going in its favor is a lack of pressure — at least until that coach's poll came out. The expectations are lower than usual internally, and any scrutiny isn't being leveled on the players, it's more on their coach. Rich Rod has had the bright lights on him for some time now, with his departure from West Virginia and subsequent lawsuit shenanigans. I think he's dealt with it fairly well, considering he can't really defend himself until his team gets on the field. I'm willing to guess if reporters ask him after the season just how hard it was, he'll describe this offseason as the toughest of his career. I think everyone, Rich Rod included, just wants to start playing games already so the focus can return to football.

But in watching Michigan's new coach the past few months, a parallel struck me that I want to expound on. Now everyone who has attended a Rich Rod press conference will tell you the guy can make anyone laugh with some of his one-liners. And while he can be entertaining in that regard, those same one-liners also cover up a particular sleaziness about Rich Rod that almost every college coach this side of Lloyd Carr has somewhere in them. Basically, what I'm trying to say is what Rich Rod says is important, but how he says it is even more critical. While you recognize his ability to coach a football team, the way he talks about issues makes you realize he's got something underneath the exterior that may or may not be something people want to know. While it may seem troubling, it's a characteristic a lot of coaches have (and some say need to have).

Well you know who else has that same honky dory personality on the outside that hides something a little sleazier on the inside? Mr. Bill Self, head basketball coach of the National Champion Kansas Jayhawks. I remember sitting at his press conference at Ford Field following the Jayhawks' win over Davidson to get to the Final Four, and thinking about Rich Rod as Self slyly negotiated through question after question about his past inability to make it to the Final Four and about the looming matchup with his predecessor at Kansas, Roy Williams. Self aw shucked his way through it all even though everyone in the room knew damn straight he was more relieved than anyone else to get the Final Four monkey off his back. In fact when someone asked him about that monkey, his response was something along the lines of "man it sure was heavy too", trying to draw chuckles from the audience.

However, I sat courtside at that Elite 8 game against Davidson, and listening to Self scream obscenities at his players' mistakes made it hard to believe he was simply Mr. woo sah (Anger Management reference) when it comes to life. Seriously, in that game, I think Darrell Arthur was told he was fucking lazy so often that I was on the verge of getting a thesaurus out so I could tell Self to at least change his phrasing once in awhile, and call Arthur fucking sedentary so the message would get across better. And according to reports, Rich Rod shares the same affinity for cursing, and apparently it's a sight to be seen when he lambasts one of his players.

But it isn't just their manner of speaking that go me thinking Rich Rod and Bill Self are long lost brothers from another mother. Their career trajectories have followed similar patterns in their respective sports. Self started out as a head coach at Oral Roberts and promptly had the worst record in that school's history, winning six games in the 1993-94 campaign. Rich Rod started out as a head coach at rinky dink Glenville State and went 1-7-1 in 1990. Both coaches improved slightly in their second seasons, with Self winning 10 games and Rich Rod winning four. And after that, both Oral Roberts and Glenville State reached their realistic peak, with Self leading Oral Roberts to an NIT bid and Rich Rod winning Glenville State's conference four years in a row.

From Oral Roberts, Self went onto Tulsa, where he finally got his name on the map, leading the Golden Hurricanes to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons. He even made a run to the Elite Eight during the 2000 season. But this is where the parallel gets a little iffy, because Rich Rod went the offensive coordinator route following his stint at Glenville. But like Self, who took Tulsa to the very peak of where a program of their capability can go (the Elite Eight), Rich Rod was a key cog on staffs at Tulane and Clemson, where those programs reached heights they haven't really seen since. See, Rich Rod was in New Orleans when Tulane, led by quarterback Shaun King, went 12-0. And he was in Death Valley as offensive coordinator of Clemson in 1999 and 2000 when the Tigers made the Peach Bowl and Gator Bowl in consecutive seasons. Now as an ACC squad, Clemson does have the resources and schedule-making capabilities to make a National title run, but let's not forget they haven't made it to a BCS bowl since 1981 when they went to the Orange Bowl. So I'd say Rich Rod played a key role in taking them right to the cusp of true greatness, just like Self did at Tulsa (although I don't think Tulsa has the resources to at least dream of a national title every year like Clemson).

Here's the part of this connection everybody is familiar with. Bill Self used his success at Tulsa and landed a job coaching Illinois, where he assembled one helluva recruiting class featuring Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and Luther Head. For the record, those three are the sole reason Self's eventual replacement at Illinois, Bruce Weber, still has a job in the Big Ten. In Champaign, Self won the Big Ten twice and again made it to the Elite Eight (i.e. the cusp of true greatness). Rich Rod went from offensive coordinator to head coach at his alma mater, West Virginia. After a couple shaky years where he was getting the program back on shaky footing, Rich Rod led the Mountaineers to cusp of a national title last season before losing to rival Pittsburgh in the Backyard Brawl.

So will Rich Rod follow the same pattern as Self, and finally win his national title now that he's at a traditional powerhouse? I think eventually he will, just like my man, Self. Remember before this past season, Self's Jayhawks flopped in a bad way in the NCAA Tournament. If you look at Self's track record, it took a lot of almost but not quite enough performances to finally break the seal and win a title. I kind of see the same thing in Rodriguez's future.

Anybody predicting better than an 8-4 record for Michigan football this season is either a gigantic homer with no regard for realistic expectations (kind of like me with the Redskins) or just doesn't know football. But l concur with most experts: give Rich Rod a couple years to recruit and implement his system, and then we'll see him break through like Self did in April. If you think like me, the connection and career path between both country-twanged men is unmistakable.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Brett a Jet

A bunch of us were at the opening night of the newest Brother Jimmys when up on the television screen popped the breaking news everyone had been waiting on for weeks now.

It read "Brett Favre traded to the Jets", and as much as I had prepared myself for such an occurance, it still came as a shock. All the Brett Favre talk through the past few weeks and months never really fazed me because in the end I thought there were only two things that were actually going to come about due to all the bickering. One alternative was for Brett Favre to be the starting quarterback for the Packers. The other was Brett Favre not being quarterback for the Packers.

The two sides always seemed to be hinting at another alternative, play for a different team, but I just never bought into it. I couldn't imagine Brett Favre in another shade of green. All along I figured the talk of the Packers being so infatuated with Aaron Rodgers was a bit overblown, and that eventually the power-that-be in Green Bay would come to their senses and allow Favre to continue on his record-breaking career. And I think it's something a lot of NFL writers, as much as they want to try and justify this from a Packer perspective, are starting to realize now that one of the greatest football players of all-time got traded. Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN laments:

If this were a divorce, then Favre would be the one getting the alimony. The Packers were so eager to ditch the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and victories by a QB that they reduced the bidding war to two teams (the Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers). And they settled for a conditional fourth-round pick, which will bump up to a third-rounder if Favre takes 50 percent of the snaps (duh), and a second-rounder if he takes 70 percent of the snaps and the Jets reach the playoffs.

Instead of Favre -- who earlier last season helped lead the Packers to the NFC Championship Game and finished second in the league's MVP voting -- Thompson would rather have three quarterbacks on his roster with a combined zero NFL starts. He'd rather have Rodgers than the most durable quarterback in the history of the game.

To be fair to the Packers, they got the impression from Favre that he wasn't exactly thrilled about putting in his due diligence outside the locker room. And I'm not completely sold on him doing the same in New York, where he's likely going to need to put in more time learning a completely new offense. When he arrives in New York (whenever that may be) he'll get a hero's welcome from the crowds and the media, but if he starts losing games after the Jets have now spent more than $49 million in the offseason, he could be in for a rude awakening to a situation he had no clue he was getting himself into. In Peter King's story about this on SI.comI, Trent Dilfer had an interesting take:

"The only thing that would concern me,'' said Dilfer, "is that Brett is going to go to New York tired and weary because of the strain of the last couple of weeks. And he's going to have to work hard to make sure he knows the offense for the first game [Sept. 7 at Miami, followed by a home date against New England], and there's going to be the media onslaught. I'd worry a little about fatigue if I were the Jets.''

Frankly, I'm not so sure about how this Jets-Favre marriage is going to work out. Certainly, on paper the Jets appear to be a playoff contender, but they're are a handful of teams in the AFC that could make the playoffs on paper. When you think about it, you've already got New England, Indianapolis, and San Diego who appear to still be the class of the conference. A half-step below all of them are teams like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville. I'd put the Jets at the next level down with teams like Tennessee, Denver, Buffalo, etc. So from their perspective, I'm not sure what their motivation was other than they didn't want to watch Chad Pennington underthrow receivers anymore.

In the end, though, what appears to be quite an ugly divorce between a legendary player and a legendary franchise will soon be forgetton. Yes, Brett Favre will don Jet green (and thinking about that must have Boies beside himself) for the next season or two, but over time nobody will really remember it as anything more than an aberration. There was a lot of noise made back when Joe Montana made his comeback and played for the Chiefs. He had moderate success, leading them to the playoffs, but once he retired it went back to Joe Montana, the 49er.

I think the same will happen with Favre. We'll call him a Jet for the next year or two, and then he'll be a Packer once he actually retires for real. No matter what team Favre plays for, I'm still going to watch. Now, if he pulls another de-retiring stunt next year, and we have to be subject to constant updates about it again, then the legacy will be tarnished.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Interesting perspective on stoner flicks

Today's marks the release of Pineapple Express, a movie I've been looking forward to since I saw a leaked trailer of it back in March. I want to see it tonight, but I promised a friend I would wait until Friday so I could watch it with him (back in May when Indiana Jones was out I made the same promise and then couldn't resist seeing it a day earlier, so I owe him one). To pass the time until i see it, I've been reading up on some of the reviews and what not that have come out now that it is finally opening.

And in doing so, I stumbled on this interesting article from Entertainment Weekly back when the second Harold and Kumar was coming out about the evolution and popularization of stoner movies. The article goes into detail about how these pot-focused movies usually bomb at the box office, and then do tremendous once they hit DVD. An explanation courtesy of Jay Chandrasekhar:

''Pot movies don't do terribly well in theaters, and yet on video they're wildly out of proportion to the theatrical gross,'' says Jay Chandrasekhar, director of the weed-centered Super Troopers. His 2002 film made $18.5 million in theaters — and almost $80 million on DVD and pay TV. ''Our theory,'' he says, ''is that our audience is too stoned to leave the house.'' White Castle offers further proof. The film, which cost only $9 million to make, became a cult hit for the couch-bound. It has grossed more than $60 million in DVD rentals and sales. In short, says White Castle co-writer Jon Hurwitz, ''it's like printing money.'

But the big-money payoffs in the past hasn't translated into a big-money budget for Pineapple Express:

The next hurdle for ''stoner comedies,'' ironically, is to transcend that very label. Until now, these films have been made for a fraction of what comparable buddy comedies cost, because pot movies traditionally have a limited take at the box office. Even coming off Knocked Up and Superbad, Rogen couldn't catch a break from Sony on Pineapple Express. ''A $40 million [budget] would've been nice,'' he says. ''But because it's a weed movie, you get $25 million.''

If you've got time, I suggest reading the whole article. It's got some interesting stuff about how Cheech and Chong changed the entire genre. Oh yeah, I've been reading some reviews and other random articles and apparently the entire movie came to frution after Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow (the producer) watched the movie "True Romance" in which Brad Pitt plays a stoner. They thought it would be funny to make a movie based on that stoner leaving the house and going on an adventure. And from I've heard, James Franco is pretty brilliant as a drug dealer in Pineapple.

Brad Pitt as a stoner

Man I miss being a lifeguard

I was at home this past weekend, interviewing for a job opening, so I got the chance to read my hometown paper in print. By hometown paper, I'm clearly speaking about The Washington Post because no self-respecting DC resident reads the Washington Times.

But of course, I shouldn't have even bothered opening the Post on Friday because what I saw in the metro section just made me want to reverse time about three years and return poolside, where I may truly belong. See, the Post had an article about all the rules that are now enforced at local pools. They sort of took the stance that all these rules suck, but there's nothing pools can do because of all the liability concerns:

This is the age of the Swim Commandments. At county, municipal, apartment and community pools all over the region, the lists of summertime Thou Shalt Nots continue to grow. Where a few basics such as no running and a catch-all warning against horseplay used to suffice, pool managers say they are under increasing pressure from insurance companies, lawyers and swim patrons themselves to forbid more and more specific behavior.

Well, I took a totally different stance. I thought back to my glory days as a lifeguard when myself and friends would compete to see who could make the most kids sit under out chairs for the most amount of time. And I think the best part was when parents would come up and try to bully you into getting their kids out of trouble. It worked when I was a beginning lifeguard during my teenage years, but once I became a grizzled vet, stories like these were more commonplace:

The frequent whistles from the lifeguard stand can make an afternoon at the pool no day at the beach, relaxation-wise. Molly Galvin, a Takoma Park mother of two, said her family and several others with young children resigned their memberships at Daleview Pool in Silver Spring because of what they saw as a culture of enforcement.

"We used to call them the pool Nazis," Galvin said. "They would literally yell at the moms if their kids were more than a few inches outside of arm's length. It was so strict, it just wasn't a fun environment."

Now, I'm sure you're saying something along the lines of "Geez Mark, you really are taking the fun out of a fun place. You need to mellow out on the rules." And ordinarily, in most other situations, I would concur with the laissez-faire attitude. But when you're a lifeguard, you live by a single commandment: No swimmers = No work. And even if you can't get rid of all the swimmers, you can at least have fun making kids sit uncomfortably under a chair while the rest of their friends are having fun.

Ahhh, the glory days.

It's the torture of the swimmer that was so rewarding for me when I worked at pools. One of my finest memories as a lifeguard, and I'm sure Matt will agree with this, was when me and him were co-managers at Regency Estates Pool and it was the swim team's raft night or something like that. Normally, because Matt and I were managers, we never worked together that summer, but since the pool would be so crowded that night, we both were on. See, it all happened during one particular adult swim, when myself and Matt blew the whistle to get all the kids out.

At that moment, there was the single largest collective groan I've ever heard from the kids in the pool. They were all legitimately disappointed that they had to leave the pool. Now, on one hand, it meant all of them were having a ton of fun with the rafts. On the other hand, I was so satisfied that I was ending that fun. When it happened, I wasn't sure if Matt had realized just how powerful that groan was, but then I turned toward the lifeguard chair he was sitting in, and I knew something legendary had happened.

Matt was standing up in the chair, rescue tube raised above his head in triumph, with a huge grin on his face. We did something special that night.

So next time you're at a pool and the kids are complaining about being treated unfairly and how there are too many rules, think about that smile on Matt's face. I can tell you, making poolgoers upset is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

More on Gilbert's pool

I didn't want to post again today, but it's slow at the Sun. I stumbled on this quote to add onto Gilbert's ridiculous sounding pool in the DC suburbs. Apparently Gilbert will also have a couple shark tanks.

"My basement used to be my weight room but I'm converting it to a shark tank. I cut a whole wall out down there and replaced it with a 10,000 gallon shark tank. That's going to be my aggressive tank, only filled with bullhead sharks. If anybody knows what a bullhead shark is, it's the No. 1 killing shark in America.

It can go in salt water and it can go in fresh water. I'm going to have a salt water tank so I can have my eels and my stingrays too. I'm going to have three bullheads in there. I originally wanted six, but the guy who has to clean it once a week said that he's not going to get in the tank with six of them, he'll get in with three. Once they get big enough, I'll have to get rid of them. The guy who cleans the tank actually goes and catches the sharks himself, because you know, these sharks you can't just go buy, they're illegal. Ever since Jaws there's been something about fish and sharks that I've always liked.

Also when I saw Cribs and Ice T had a shark tank in the back of his place, I was like, "Oh man! That's what it is!! I've been trying to plan this shark tank for the last seven years of my career I've been talked out of it by my mentor, Otis Smith. He first talked me out of it when I was a rookie and I was going to spend my whole paycheck on a fish tank. I was like "Man, I want a fish tank, that's all I want to leave with, if I don't get another dime I can know I got a fish tank, and Otis shut that down."

I don't think Gilbert has ever seen Deep Blue Sea because he wouldn't be getting a shark tank if he did.

On second thought, what was the IOC thinking?

I go way back with these Beijing Olympic games. See on July 13, 2001 — the date Beijing was awarded the Olympics by the IOC (International Olympic Committee for non-sports types) — I was a precocious 15-year-old in Florence, Italy for my uncle's 50th birthday celebration.

The hatred of all things museum and tourist-related meant I spent a decent amount of time watching television (I know, lame considering I was abroad), and the only two English-only channels available in a hotel in Florence happen to be Eurosport and CNN. Well, since it was the middle of July, Eurosport was showing the Tour de France over and over again, so much so that I had watched it enough to point out each time Lance Armstrong was going to take a sip out of his water bottle.


So with Eurosport out of the question due to continuous bicycle coverage, my attention turned to CNN, which happened to be in the midst of showing the IOC vote on who would host the 2008 games. Even then, analysts were saying the bids of other places, specifically Toronto and Paris, were stronger than Beijing's but the IOC really, really wanted to see a Chinese Olympics. Once Beijing was officially awarded the proceedings, the streets of the city filled with jubilation and I'm sure all the great figures of Chinese history like Mao Zedong, Sun Yat Sen, General Tso, and Chef Jan (Ann Arbor joke) were posthumously ecstatic.

Now, eight years later, and on the dawn of what has turned into the most controversial Olympics since the 1936 Berlin games, Beijing is under an even brighter microscope than on that day. A ton of coverage has been paid to China not living up to the promises it made to the IOC in 2001, but I wanted to focus more on what Americans could be doing to better this situation. If it isn't obvious from the past few decades, I'll say this clearly for you: China doesn't change quickly. Notice how a majority of the country still has bowl haircuts, which I think we all know are out of fashion once you hit the age of five.

Right off the bat, I think it's obvious that our athletes need to clean up on the medals to show just how awesome democracy is (For the record, any athlete that goes up to a random person and just shouts "We're American" in a fake southern accent will suffice instead of medals).

But more importantly, once our athletes are on the podium, they need to speak out about just how bad some of the things going on in China (indifference to genocide in Darfur, mistreatment of Tibet, air quality, various other human rights issues) are, and show publicly that people of great stature are concerned with what's going on there. The first person I know who mentioned this was Ian Robinson at the Daily, when he said Michael Phelps should say something.

Phelps has since followed Olympic protocol and not said anything political. Actually, the IOC forbids anything political to be said at its events, even though they almost disallowed Iran from competing a week ago for political reasons. Seems kind of hypocritical to me. And now, I've gotten this thanks to True Hoop about the one and only LeBron James. Charles Pierce of Slate writes:

In April, Ira Newble, a teammate of James' on the Cavaliers, drafted an angry open letter to the Chinese government, excoriating it for its heavy investment in Sudan and, therefore, its involvement in the genocidal atrocities in Darfur. Every member of the Cavaliers save two signed the letter. One was Damon Jones. The other was LeBron James

I'm sure LeBron cares just a little about the tragedies befalling Darfur right now. I mean, even though he didn't go to college, he seems pretty well-rounded in his interests and has to at least pay someone to read the news and keep up on current affairs. But his refusal to support this Darfur initiative from a trusted teammate had nothing to do with personal feelings. Obviously, like most things in this world, it had to do with money. And Michael Jordan, according to Pierce:

Of course, Jordan wrote the book on how to become a wildly popular and successful athlete without demonstrating even the sliver of a public conscience. More to the point, he created a new template for risk-free stardom, whereby involvement in the unruly hurly-burly of the real world is something that a star is not expected to do. Do the public-service ads for the safe issues, but go no deeper into the forces that create those issues in the first place.

See, LeBron's corporate sponsors like Nike, Microsoft, and Coke would not have been too pleased if their poster boy with the stated desire of becoming one of sport's only billionaires had ruined his image within what is becoming the friendlier confines of China. It's a huge market that all of corporate America is trying to cultivate, especially with America's economy hitting the fan right now.

But as much as I want blame LeBron (images of him doing the I can't see my face to DeShawn have already returned), you really can't. If you had a $100 million+ deal with a corporate giant, would you really have the moxie to stand up for genocide. I know I would privately, but would you do it to millions and millions of people around the world and subsequently jeopardize your non-playing related revenues? I don't think I could, so I don't think it's fair to hold LeBron or Phelps accountable for their silence. Now, if some obscure American athlete wins a gold, like my man, Taraje Williams-Murray, then I might hold them accountable.

The beautiful Beijing smog.

See, it's the whole structure of the Olympics that are holding all of this social rhetoric from emerging out of the minds of people who can actually make a difference. Frankly, I'm curious to see what our President, George W. Bush, says now that he's in Beijing, as signs point to him being much softer on China while he's there. When it comes down to it, the Olympics aren't controlled by this notion of sports bringing the country together. Anyone that thinks it's a coincidence that the 2008 games were awarded to Beijing back in 2001 because people thought the country was progressing is being seriously, seriously naive. I think Sally Jenkins gets to the root of this
problem in today's Washington Post.

So what is this Olympics really about? It's about 12 major corporations and their panting ambitions to tap into China's 1.3 billion consumers, the world's third-largest economy. Understand this: The International Olympic Committee is nothing more than a puppet for its corporate "partners," without whom there would be no Games. These major sponsors pay the IOC's bills for staging the Olympics to the tune of $7 billion per cycle. Without them, and their designs on the China market, Beijing probably would not have won the right to host the Summer Games.

Obviously, this isn't really news to most, as big corporations have ruled the land for years and years. But these Olympics have put a microscope on just how far their reach can go. I look back on my 15-year-old self sitting in a hotel room in Florence seven years ago, and just shake my head. To think, I was rooting for Istanbul to get the 2008 games because they could have used the slogan: "It's no bull: Istanbul 2008". I think it would have caught on.

A Dark Knight Conspiracy

Last night I heard the news that beloved actor Morgan Freeman had to be rescued by the jaws of life after getting into a pretty serious car accident in Mississippi. Being the extremely sensitive human being that I am, my initial reaction went something like this, "Man, that sucks for the Batman franchise."

I was promptly leered at by friends who are smitten by the star of classics like Seven, Unforgiven, The Shawshank Redemption, and Evan/Bruce Almighty (actually Evan Almighty kinda stunk). Apparently, I'm in the minority in thinking about movie stars according to their movies, instead of through the friendship lens. But to my delight (for Batman purposes) and the delight of everyone else who loves Morgan Freeman (and let's be honest, it's pretty tough to hate on this guy), the actor suffered a broken arm, broken elbow, and minor shoulder damage. Those are definitely some painful injuries, but nothing too life-threatening. Freeman was even in a good enough mood to joke around with delighted stalkers at the scene of the accident:

When one person tried to snap a photo with a cellphone camera, Freeman joked, "no freebies, no freebies," McFerrin said.

I take solace in the fact that even in extreme agony and disfuguration from car accidents, actors can still demand money for the privilege of looking at their face.

To add onto all of this, as I walked out of the subway today on my way to work, I picked up a copy of Metro (my old stomping grounds). On the front page was an article about Mary-Kate Olsen and her reported refusal to speak with federal investigators about Heath Ledger's death without immunity of some kind. According to the article, her lawyer says Mary Kate had nothing to do with Heath's death, and has already hugged Bob Saget for closure on the whole episode.

I know you notice the Batman connection between Freeman and Ledger, though. Well throw in Christian Bale's family fight a few weeks ago, and I think you've got a full-fledged conspiracy here. Well over at Gawker, they've got the same premonition I do, except they call it a curse:

Also, a crewman died while filming one of the movie's epic action sequences. (But he wasn't famous, so, boo!, apparently.) The film's other actors have so far not reported any ghostly occurrences or freak accidents, and the producers are definitely happy and swimming in piles of money. But could this just be the deceiving prelude to the awfulness that's yet to befall them? Could they spiral into addiction, spurned by an overabundance of wealth and an unseen malevolent force?

Personally, I'm going more with the conspiracy theory. I've narrowed the suspects down to two people. The first, and most likely, dastardly felon has to be Val Kilmer. The Iceman rose to fame in Top Gun and was probably the worst Batman of all time in Batman Forever, making a slight comeback when he played a sherpa in season one of Entourage. Well, after seeing current photos of him, it appears as if Kilmer has been eating lots of potato chips while chomping his teeth Top Gun-style and scheming in his basement. I could easily see Kilmer giving Heath the drugs, telling Bale's mom that he heard Batman call her "a dirty whore" and allowing calamity to ensue, and finally throwing an empty chip bag on the road in Mississipi causing Freeman's car to skid out of control a la the O'Doyles in Billy Madison.

The next suspect has to be another former Batman, Michael Keaton. Now in honor of full disclosure, I must admit that I have a weird love for Michael Keaton and don't actually understand why his career has fizzled of late. On top of doing the original Batman and Batman Returns, Keaton was awesome in my favorite movie, "The Paper" (which is predictably about working at a newspaper). Oh, and before we get off his greatness, let's not forget he appeared in an episode of King of the Hill in 2003 and was in Mutiplicity and Beetlejuice, both classics if you ask me. And I'm not the only one with a M-Keat man crush. This dude listed out 12 roles Keaton should have and could have played in The Dark Knight.

Michael Keaton as Batman

But to be fair, there's no denying Keaton is in a bit of a rough patch. If you saw Jack Frost, you'll know what I'm talking about (such a bad script, Keaton couldn't even save it). So obviously he's pretty upset with Bale for stealing the role he made famous. But unlike Kilmer, I just can't see him going to these lengths to ruin the franchise. I mean he did get to do a Batman movie with Michelle Pfeiffer in a tight rubber catwoman suit while she was still in her prime looks-wise. Maybe he helped out Kilmer in his plot, sort of like Kilmer's Robin. Then again, if Keaton was upset about losing Batman why would he sink to Robin levels?

I know what you're thinking, too. What about George Clooney, another former Batman? My response is ... Seriously? Clooney doesn't do anything without his boy toy Brad Pitt, who is owned by Angelina (As you can see I have some conspiracy thoughts of my own concerning Jolie. I can't believe she's so popular with African children less than 10 years after wearing Billy Bob Thornton's blood).

So basically, this was a long-winded post saying something fishy is going on with this Dark Knight movie and I can't put my finger on exactly what it may be. But if you see Val Kilmer lurking in the shadows somewhere, I'd go elsewhere because something weird is about to go down.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Take solace, the LaRoche boys are back together

I'm not willing to put money on it, but I'm guessing most reading this don't think having Andy LaRoche at third and Adam LaRoche at first makes the Pirates a juggernaut for the foreseeable future. I will say that caveat was overlooked in all the coverage of the MLB trading deadline, but I guess it's understandable since this was the first time ever three future Hall of Famers were traded in 24 hours. I think Tim Kurkjian had a stat saying the only other time a trio of Hall Famers were traded in the same season was during the dead ball era.

And all of this doesn't even include Mark Teixeira getting traded to the Angels.

Clearly, the talking heads of the world have had their say about this trade. Everyone seems to think the Tigers got fleeced in giving up Pudge for Farnsworth straight up, Ken Griffey wasn't really a necessity for the White Sox, the Dodgers got a nice power bat in their lineup, the Pirates did what the Pirates do and sold off all their assets and started over again, and the Red Sox may have cost themselves the playoffs depending on how Jason Bay performs.

My belated opinion is one of wonder over how the Red Sox could just give up Manny Ramirez, no matter how many ground balls he chooses to not run out. I tend to agree with all of the above thoughts, and anyone saying Jason Bay can be the same player as Manny Ramirez (like say, Theo Epstein) is in for rude awakening when the Sawx don't make the playoffs. You just can't replicate performance in the clutch, and whenever Manny came up in a big spot, he usually delivered. Even the greatest player of our generation, Alex Rodriguez, can't seem to replicate the clutchness factor that the Red Sox seem to have de-valued beyond belief.

But what struck me most about this deadline was the sheer number of marquee trades that made it through baseball hierarchy. It's a trend that sort of emerged during this NBA season, after names like Jason Kidd, Shaquille O'Neal, Pau Gasol, Ben Wallace, Larry Hughes, and Mike Bibby were traded away. Hell, even the NHL trade deadline has some significant moves like Marian Hossa to the Penguins, Sergei Federov to the Capitals, and Brian Campbell to the Sharks. After so many years of rumored trades falling through, it appears as if general managers are more and more ceding to the fans and actually going for it. Hopefully it's more than just a one-year phenomenon and a sign that the days of Bill Simmons calling the NBA the "No Balls Association" are behind us.

Now, I've spent the past couple of days trying to figure out why this happened this year and I haven't come up with a definitive answer. Back in the day, you never saw anything like the blockbuster deadline deals that we've seen in the past several months, and I haven't seen a general indicator that suggests that these big time trades are a sign of things to come.

But something interesting came up in conversation with Graham yesterday. He mentioned an article in the Sports Business Journal, which I can't link right now because you have to be a member, that basically says Manny's new agent, the infamous Scott Boras, orchestrated this trade because Manny's old deal was signed under his prior agent. See, if Manny were stuck with those cumbersome $20 million options that the Red Sox seemed inclined to exercise, Boras would not have seen one iota of money since he wasn't the agent that negotiated the original deal. Now, with Manny a Dodger and those options out the window as part of trade stipulations, Boras gets to go into the winter with a clean slate to make a bunch of money for himself.

That Scott Boras is at it again.

So it got me thinking that maybe it's the evolution of the agent that have made these big time trades more and more prevalent. But I'm going to have to go into more depth on this, maybe try and sneak my way into interviewing a couple GMs and get their take on the whole issue. I definitely think the agents are a reason these trades began spinning, but I also can't get past thinking these huge trades were also a product of circumstance and sheer luck.

For now, let's just hope Manny's fantasy value doesn't hit the shitter now that he's part of a mediocre offense in a pitcher's park.