Saturday, July 31, 2004

Nomar The North Sider

The Boston Red Sox finally did it. They moved shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs as part of a four-team deal today. The Sox spent the winter trying to move Nomar and fill his spot with Alex Rodriguez. When the A-Rod deal fell through, Boston was left with a star so unhappy about his contract discussions and being shopped around that he was destined to test free agency at season's end.

Instead of letting the disgruntled star walk away without compensation, the Sox instigated today's move. In return for a player on a Hall of Fame pace, Boston got Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera. Two fine, steady players who may indeed help the Red Sox secure a playoff spot. However, right now, the winner of the deal appears to be the team Nomar went to.

The National League's version of the snake-bit Red Sox, the Cubs didn't move one player from their core and didn't injure their farm system and still acquired a player everyone considered one of the best three shortstops in the game twelve months ago. If Nomar decides the North Side is not to his liking and opts for free agency in three months, the Cubs have lost nothing.

If the Sox don't make a championship run or worse, don't make the playoffs, Sox general manager Theo Epstein will not be the wunderkid anymore. If Nomar thrives in whatever enviroment he lands in, Epstein has the chance of going Harry Frazee and Dan Duquette as men who let Boston icons get away.

Frazee committed the first sin, Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Duquette thought Roger Clemens was done in 1996. Clemens has won three Cy Young Award since. Duquette also let Beantown favorite Mo Vaughn go, too. Both men, Frazee and Duquette, are villians in Red Sox Nation. Epstein put himself in their path just by taking the GM job. If this move backfires, Epstein will take a big leap towards joining these infamous Boston baseball men.

In the end, only time will tell which team was helped the most by today's deadline deals. The Cubbies are a long way from first (eleven games back). It would seem unlikely Nomar's arrival alone would move the North Siders that far up the standings. Nomar could also end up a rental property, if he doesn't like Chicago pinstripes.

The Twins traded Doug M. (forgive me for not typing his last name again) to open a lineup spot for one of my favorite young hitters, Justin Morneau. Their portion of the deal will pan out if Morneau is the real deal and if anyone they got can contribute later.

Forget the Expos portion of the swap. They are being run into the ground, but that's another post altogether. The Red Sox, however angry some in The Nation are at not getting more for Nomar, may benefit from this deal. Putting Pokey Reese and Doug M. on the field will help their defense about 50%. Nomar, for all of his gifts, is erratic with the glove. However, Reese will not hit. I don't mean not hit at Nomar's level. I mean not hit period. Cabrera can hit, but has been in a season long slump. Perhaps emerging from the Expos mess will enliven his bat.

Obviously, not one person knows how this will all work out. Everyone could win, everyone could lose. I do know that the judging on talent alone the Cubs are today's winners and, if the deal doesn't work out for them, they will have lost very, very little. That's called a win/win situation.

It's Over For Tyson

Mike Tyson has lost, yet again. His latest defeat should solidfy Tyson's spot as a has-been. Sports' living car wreck, Tyson, is now thirty-eight years old and headed for knee surgery. His days as a primetime, big box office athlete should be over. Even if Tyson choses to fight after his surgery, he appears to be destined for boxing's unofficial senior tour.

It's the place where AARP eligible fighters (Larry Holmes, George Foreman, etc...) take on anyone and everyone in search of pay-per-view dollars and one more taste of glory. It's the stuff that loiters on the inside of even the smallest of sports sections. Tyson, like these other fighters past their prime, no longer merit the front page. Their fights become the last highlight on SportsCenter, assuming they are covered at all.

Before Friday night's fight, many experts thought aloud that Tyson could indeed recapture the heavyweight title. The division is so weak that even a diminished Tyson was thought to have more than a puncher's chance at regaining the belt. Now, it's apparent that both the division and Tyson have fallen and neither appear capable of ever getting up.

Football In L.A.

Since the Raiders and Rams vacated in second biggest market in the United States, the NFL has been trying to find a way to get their product back in Los Angeles. However, the city continues without a team in the nation's most popular sport. No definitive plan to change that is in sight. That's what makes this little piece of news from Major League Soccer so interesting.

On Monday, MLS is going to announce that Chivas USA will begin play in Los Angeles starting in 2005. The interesting part is that one year from today, L.A. will have two professional soccer teams and zero NFL franchises. The Galaxy have called L.A. their home since the league's formation.

I'm not sure what this means. Are Los Angeles' citizens more interested in the "other" football than the NFL's product? Are there just more potential soccer owners interested in the L.A. market? Is Los Angeles just a lousy sports town? I have no idea. It does make me wonder, just a tiny bit, if that soccer revolution predicted when the NASL was in operation thirty years ago, is finally beginning?

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Woodson Cut

The Oakland Raiders cut Rod Woodson today.  I make note of this for two reasons.  First, Woodson is one of my all-time favorite NFL players.  Second, I think you can make the argument that Woodson is the finest defensive back in football history. 

Regardless of how you judge a defensive player, Woodson would get high marks.  He could cover just about anyone and, unlike a number of cover cornerbacks, he could knock your lights out.  Woodson was also a difference maker.  He was the best blitzing corner ever.  He also spent quite a bit of time with the ball in his hands.  Between kick returns, interception returns and fumble recoveries, Woodson spent a lot of time on offense while playing defense.

You want versatility?  Woodson made the Pro Bowl as a kick return specialist, then as a cornerback and finally as a safety.  That sounds more like a defensive back of fifty years ago.  It was this combination of skills that got Woodson elected to the NFL's All-Time Team during the league's 75th anniversary season.

Woodson may not be at the end of his career, but he's close.  Before he ends his Hall of Fame career, I hope Woodson can get healthy enough to provide one more productive season.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Weekend Wrap

It all begins and ends with Lance Armstrong.  The anti-Tour de France rhetoric is well underway already, but winning six in a row is simply amazing.  What am I saying?  Winning one is amazing.  Winning five, as four others have, is unbelievable.  But, six?  Amazing.

Like many others, I pay more attention because an American is doing well, but diminishing Armstrong's accomplishment because we don't count this event amongst our top sporting interests is somewhere between silly and naive. 

It's not like this version of bicycling is you and me heading out to the local park.  They are going up the Alps, not their driveway.  They have time trials and endurance contests.  They race up mountains and down cobblestone roads.  They race in the rain, cold, heat and whatever other condition arises.  They ride for over twenty days. 

I admit I like the Tour.  Unlike many zealots of other "minor" sports, I am not going to tell you that the Tour is better than the World Series.  It isn't.  Well, not for me anyway.  However, it's a cool event and darn difficult to succeed in.  If you don't like it or view it as something less than important on your sports scene, that's fine by me.  You just lose out on seeing a great moment in sport.

Williams Bolts

I've already written some on Miami Dolphins' star Ricky Williams cashing out and bidding the NFL au revoir (Sorry, it's French left over from previous post).  Having seen this sort of thing first hand with Barry Sanders, I am not surprised.  Unlike Sanders, Williams had some well documented issues off-the-field and appears to be the stereo-typical "free spirit".  Those only make the former Heisman Trophy winner's departure that much easier to understand.

I'm sure that most Fish fans are probably really mad right now.  However, I've learned over the years that some athletes don't really like their jobs all that much.  Most do, but there are a few blessed with talent that just tolerate the confines of their profession until they can find something better to do with their time.  While this confounds those of us who wish we could have their jobs and ability, some guys just aren't into playing sports for a living. 

If one of your co-workers retires young, especially if financially secure, no one really bats an eye.  Who could blame them for getting out from under the stress that a "regular job" takes?  In fact, most people I know would love to have the opportunity Williams has before him.   Early retirement with lots of money in the bank?  Many dream of such a chance.

If Williams, already known to have some emotional problems, walks away from what he perceives as a stressful enviroment, who am I to say he's wrong?  Maybe Williams is absolutely right.  Maybe getting out of the glare and repetition of the NFL will help him.  I hope so.  All that money and free time can lead to disaster if not handled properly.

It's easy to peg Williams as a loser.  He is, even by his own admission, making a very selfish decision, but it's hard for me to get too upset.  He doesn't have to play football if he doesn't want to.  We shouldn' expect him to.

The I Don't Care Department

(Editor's Note: Technically, it should be the "You Don't Care Department".  As I am going to fill this space sharing things you could care less about.)

I'm trying to follow European soccer this fall.  However, I am already overwhelmed.  Part of it is clearly the lack of knowledge of common terms, nicknames and the like, on my part.  The other thing I find both interesting and disturbing is the amount of international transactions.  It's interesting because you can change your football club in a hurry, it's disturbing because you can change your football club in a hurry. 

One day your goalkeeper is from Hungary, next season it's a Brazilian and their this kid in Spain who might be available.  I thought trying to keep track of baseball prospects was challenging, I have no idea how international football fans keep pace with the transactions and rumored deals.  I think I know part of the reason that so many football fans are drinking. 

Did I mention the season has started yet? 


Sunday, July 25, 2004

Williams' Testing Revelation

One of the more interesting things to come out of Ricky Williams retirement were his comments about drug use.  It seems Williams, one of the best runningbacks in the National Football League, uses marijuana.  It wasn't so much that he used the drug I found telling, it was how he claimed to avoid testing positive.  

In a story at Williams claimed "he has gotten around drug tests in the past by taking a special liquid players all over the league consume to avoid detection."  Now, taking masking agents to cover illegal substance use is hardly news.  It is, however, interesting to note that during this current wave of drug scandals that the NFL has dodged attention primarily because of it's perceived tougher enforcement policy.

It seems that the public is more than willing to believe baseball players are on steroids, Olympic athletes are on steroids and Tour de France riders are on steroids, but NFL players are clean because they get tested.  Yes, baseball's drug policy isn't a policy at all, but does anyone think Marion Jones or Lance Armstrong doesn't get tested more often than NFL players?

If Ricky Williams can't even get busted using marijuana, do we really think the NFL is going to catch regular users of steroids or other performance enhancing drugs?  If the ex-Dolphins star uses a masking agent that "players all over the league consume to avoid detection", how many guys have access to liquids capable of covering up other drugs?

Each season we hear about another 6' 4", 330 pound lineman with great quickness.  We raise an eyebrow at power hitting shortstops, figuring they are probably using juice, but huge offensive lineman with great quickness come strictly from solid weight-training and supersizing their meals.  I think Williams' openness about the availability of masking agents should put those naive ideals to rest.  Or, at least, they should. 

Saturday, July 24, 2004

A Wie Bit Too Much

Golfing phenom Michelle Wie is good.  She's very, very good.  That's how she got the phenom tag.  However, while the LPGA (and the media) search for golf's next legend, they have one in their midst.  I can't believe I'm going to say this, but Annika Sorenstam is getting overlooked. 

I know, this is the woman who played in a PGA Tour event.  This is the most dominant player on the LPGA circuit.  I would argue that Sorenstam is simply the finest women's player of all-time.  Wasn't it Bobby Jones who, when asked about a young Jack Nicklaus, said "He plays a game I am not familiar with."?  Well, Sorenstam is playing a game Wie would be darn lucky to emulate.  Sorenstam is racking up wins, majors, top ten finishes and money at a record pace.  A pace yet unknown to any other woman to play on the tour. 

Yet, regardless of where she finishes, Wie's score is noted in crawls each day.  In today's Evian Masters, Wie's tie for thirty-third was one of two scores listed on the ESPN ticker.  Sorenstam, the third round leader, was not mentioned.  The sport's biggest name, bar none, finished second.  Wendy Doolan won, by the way.  She, at least, did get first billing for beating Sorenstam by a stroke. 

I get tired of this kind of over-emphasis on Tiger Woods' play each round, too, but at least I can say he's been the most impressive player since Jack Nicklaus.  Sure, he got tons of hype backed by Nike dollars, when he first turned pro, but he was much older.  He had a rather impressive amateur career behind him, as well.  Wie is still too young to have even had the opportunity to reach that level of amateur success. 

Although, I should admit, Wie's been a spectacular amateur.  Again, that's how one gets the "phenom" label.  However, I would encourage everyone to quickly review the list of fine amateurs who either never reached professional success.  It's just too darn soon to be overly concerned about a fourteen year old.  Maybe I'm just too old school today, but it just seems disrespectful of the other LPGA players working hard and doing well to have a teenager finishing thirty-third upstage their work. 

I know I am sounding like one of those bitter PGA Tour guys when Tiger broke on the scene, grabbing every ounce of attention.  I apologize for that, but until our latest golfing wonderkid holds all four majors at the same time or has a career grandslam plus a spot in the LPGA Hall of Fame locked up, maybe Sorenstam deserves some of Wie's hype.  She is, after all, the person Michelle Wie will have to succeed as the greatest player ever.

Can Pudge Be MVP?

The talk of Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez capturing the Most Valuable Player award is heating up.  I've heard some of the national media guys say Rodriguez is probably in the top three American League MVP candidates right now.  Two local writers discussed the Tigers' catcher this week.  Jim Hawkins at the Daily Oakland Press and Gene Guidi the Free Press beat writer both shed light on Pudge's season. 

I have to admit that I was never much of a Rodriguez fan before his arrival in Detroit.  I didn't dislike the guy, but I had no idea what a force his presence is.  Since the first day of Spring Training, Pudge has literally led the team.  He does it with his bat, his glove and his attitude.  He shows up early, stays late.  His workout regime is unlike that of anyone else on the team.  He talks of the playoffs.  He hits.  And hits.  And hits.  He sells tickets.  He has awakened an apathetic fan base.  Basically, Rodriguez does what every fan expects a man making ten million dollars a season to do. 

Rodriguez has been a revelation to a town starving for some good news from Comerica Park and he has completely floored me.  If Rodriguez can play at 80% of this level, maybe even 75%, over the course of his four year deal, Rodriguez will be a Tiger legend.  I don't say that lightly.  This is the team of Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Harry Heilmann, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg and Al Kaline. 

Just based on Pudge's play over the first half of 2004, he is probably the best player to wear the Old English D since Kaline patrolled rightfield at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.  Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish, Cecil Fielder were all good.  The first four are, at worst, borderline Hall of Famers.  There has been nothing borderline about Rodriguez in this campaign.

A year ago, the Tigers were well on their way to becoming the worst team in American League history.  Today, they have already eclipsed their win total from '03 and harbor playoff ambitions.  Rodriguez has not done it alone, Carlos Guillen, Rondell White, Jason Johnson and others merit much of that credit, as well, but Pudge has been the centerpiece for the Tigers' rebound.  Hopefully, Rodriguez' ability to led an entire organization out of the worst decade in their over one hundred year history should give him some extra credit.  It should.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Cell Phones At The Ballpark

If you watch baseball on television for any length of time you are bound to see one of my new favorite pet peeves.  It's the guy on the cell phone waving incessantly at the television camera.  This nation's obsession with cell phones was annoying enough when limited to those who could not talk and drive properly at the same time.  When their inability to multi-task was coupled with their blatant lack of courtesy, displayed in grocery stores, restaurants, post offices and even the zoo, I attempted to be understanding.  However, now their lack of respect has invaded our national pastime and my home via the airwaves.  It must be stopped.

Like many major crimes, these poor cell phone criminals commit their crime on three different levels.  First degree criminal stadium cell phone behavior is fairly basic.  It's the type of stuff you run into at all public places.  It's someone sitting in a seat within a earshot of you who feels the need to discuss their child's soccer team, the color paint they are considering for their bathroom walls or the time they are going to meet at the local gentleman's club.  I'm not sure why, but apparently none of these calls can wait, so it must be discussed immediately from their seat at the ballpark.  

This action is mostly rude.  It doesn't annoy thousands or even hundreds.  It just boggles the minds of those in the immediate area.  If you must make this vital phone call, make it from the nearest concourse.  Is that really asking too much? 

Second degree criminal stadium cell phone behavior is more premeditated.  It's the person who sits at just the right camera angle so that he/she is in every close-up shot of the batter.  (It's the view we see when they display the batter's stats on the screen.)  It can also be the people sitting right behind home plate.  Both are broadcast worldwide every few minutes.  These individuals take the crime to it's next level by talking on their cell while waving at the camera.  This action can often last most of the game. 

Presumably, the person I can see is waving at whomever they are talking to on the phone.  Now, in my more open minded moments, I think they are waving at their grandmother halfway across the country or their cousin Joe in Spain.  However, we know better, don't we?  The odds are the person they are waving at is their neighbor, co-worker, drinking buddy or someone within their own household.  Basically, it's someone they see on a regular basis.  Someone  who probably even knows they are at the game.  Yet, they wave.  And talk.  And wave, again. 

I worry for these people. However, there is one group that needs immediate attention.  These are the ones who commit first degree criminal stadium cell phone behavior.  They are the folks who aren't sitting in a convenient location for the television cameras to capture their action.  Unable to get appropriate television time, these abusers rush down the aisle right behind homeplate, cell phone already in action, waving like crazy.  They are waving quickly, of course, because the ushers are going to move them shortly. 

I see them and generally think "Go away.  Go away now."  These people are in desperate in need of one of two things.  First, a designated driver.  Second, therapy.  I worry for people whose lives are so out of kilter that they view this practice as necessary.    Sure, it's still possible that cousin Joe in Barcelona is waving back at them, but I'll bet the roaming charges alone stop that call from ever happening.

As their are different levels of the crime, I suggest different levels of punishment.  Ater a kind, preliminary request from the usher to make their calls from the concourse, third degree offenders would be given the choice of leaving the game or having their cell dropped into a vat of warm nacho cheese.

Second degree criminals would get an initial warning as well.  Further abuses would be met with  the choice of being escorted from the game or be force fed hotdogs while having giant foam fingers duct taped to their hands.  Either penalty would include a month long suspension from the ballpark.

The first degree criminals get no such warning.  They would receive all the previous penalties, plus a year long suspension from the park or bathroom detail for the remainder of the season as a public service.

I tolerate, with mild disgust, the poor driving by cell phone users.  I patiently drive my shopping cart around those who have stopped in the middle of the aisle to talk on their cell phone about the neighbor's flower bed.  I wait in line for the person on the cell phone to stop their conversation long enough to write their check to the cashier.  However, interfere with the national pastime or my television viewing and you cross the line.  Stop the madness immediately or be willing to face the consequences.

Monday, July 19, 2004

How Much Is Too Much?

How much am I willing to pay to attend next year's MLB All-Star Game?  That's the question I have already begun asking myself, almost a year in advance of the first pitch.  Detroit's first All-Star Game in over thirty years is bound to be a popular event.  The cost of tickets is going to be, well, it's going to be quite a bit. 

However, for a number of reasons, I have always wanted to go to an All-Star Game.  It's not only a premier event on the baseball schedule, but it has almost always occured around my birthday.  It even arrives on my birthday on occasion.  Growing up a baseball fan, it made my birthday week kind of a baseball holiday.

Besides, it's one of those things a baseball fan wants to cross off his/her "Things To Do" checklist.  Hall of Fame?  Check.  Wrigley Field?  Check.  Fenway Park?  Check.  Playoff Game?  Check.  The All-Star Game remains unmarked on my list.

The question is when does desire become stupidity?  Is it worth $500 to sit in Comerica Park's outer reaches to "watch" an All-Star Game?  Those normally $8-$20 upper deck seats can be far, far away.   Is it worth $300?  $200?  Right now, I'm not even going to think about the cost of a lower deck box seat.  I'll start to get depressed. 

I doubt the Tigers are going to offer individual tickets for sale.  They might, as they did this year, offer the opportunity to purchase some if you buy a season ticket package.  However, in spite of getting the All-Star ticket at face value, is the cost of a season ticket package (tickets, parking, food, etc...) going to be as much or more than paying the ticket broker for the single event?

My only hope is that attendance will be somewhat down as Detroit is not a popular tourist destination.  (Sorry, Mayor Kilpatrick.)  Maybe that will lower the price a bit over previous All-Star Game, but I'm betting the game is going to be wildly popular with the locals.  Tigers' fans have waited for over three decades for this game to return, I suspect we are all eager to attend.

Even if prices fall some due to the city's reputation nationwide, or a lack of interest locally, I have to figure out how much am I willing to fork over?  How do I decide how much is too much?  I've got about 359 days left to figure that out.

Fallen Tiger

I don't care what the numbers tell me, Tiger Woods is not the number one golfer in the world right now.  I am not alone in this sentiment, either.  Woods is certainly the sport's marquee name.  He is also it's most prolific active player, in terms of major championship play.  However, the mantle of best golfer in the world right now belongs Ernie Els.

Els and Masters champion Phil Mickelson are 1-2 in the world.  You could make a case that Mickelson merits first overall.  I wouldn't quibble much.  As for where Tiger falls in my rankings, I would place him at fourth.  U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen is third.

Now, for every weekend hacker, golf writer, and most PGA Tour players, being considered the fourth best player in the world would be a dream come true.  However, Woods' own success has made this enviable spot seem like a negative.  We should all "slump" so badly.

We just need to remember that Woods is human and golf is a difficult game.  He also has the potential to break out at any time.  If he captures the PGA Championship next month, all the talk of a slump will end aburptly.   For now, though, we need to do something most pundits have try to avoid.  We need to acknowledge his competitors on the PGA Tour are pretty darn good. 

Friday, July 16, 2004

L.A. Story

I've heard all the experts and pundits criticize the Lakers for trading away Shaquille O'Neal.  They are right, of course.  Trading the most dominant interior force since Wilt Chamberlain does seem ridiculous.  However, unlike the majority, I'm hesitant to write off his former team.
The Lakers downfall in The Finals was a poor supporting cast.  Gary Payton was invisible.  Karl Malone was hurt and they couldn't find anyone to fill his production.  Anyone recall any significant contributions from the bench?  Bryant may not have Shaq to lean on next season, but he will have three more quality teammates.  That's three more than showed up in The Finals.
The Lakers of 2004-2005 will not be as tough as this year's model.  There is no way to replace a player of Shaq's magnitude.  What the Lakers might have is a more balanced lineup.  Lamar Odom and Caron Butler can play.  Brian Grant isn't quite as good as he once was, but can still do some dirty work inside.   
If Payton stays, Malone re-signs and Kobe can keep himself out of prison, Rudy T. will have a few more pieces to work with in '04-'05 than Phil Jackson did this June.  Trading Shaq certainly won't make them a better team, but I'm not convinced the Lakers are going to fall off the coast just because the big guy is gone.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Big Money, Smaller Names

Brian Cardinal. Adonal Foyle. Michael Doleac. Troy Hudson. Marquis Daniels. Mehmet Okur. Rafer Alston. Any of these names ring a bell? Don't feel too bad, if they don't sound familiar. I've got no more than a passing knowledge of them, either. For the record, they are all basketball players. NBA players, in fact. They are also soon-to-be millionaires.

I'm sure a few diehard hoops fans can easily provide us with some detailed information on each, but they would be the true zealous NBA followers. They are not household NBA names like Shaq, Iverson or Duncan. However, if the rumors are true and my questionable math skills are correct, these seven players are about to earn a collective $239 million dollars. That's an average of $34 million a piece. In per year income, that's approximately just over $5 million a season. Not bad for seven guys few non-NBA geeks could identify.

This is where sports' big contracts hurt teams and frustrate fans. If a guy like Shaq made $239 million in total salary, almost regardless of the length of the deal, I think fans would say "Sure, it's insane cash, but Shaq is a dominant superstar". I believe fans would find the money ridiculous, but understand that elite players, guys who alter games and sometimes entire franchises, can command huge money.

When seven guys, who appear to be unlikely Hall of Famers, who are not even amongst the elite players of their day, can command around five million a season, fans are alienated, the players lose perspective and teams are financial tied to role players for extended periods of time.

I have nothing against any of the seven NBA players I use as an example. All are going to be considered important performers on their teams. But, let's review their career averages for a moment.

Alston has averaged 6.2 points per game and 3.5 assists per game in his career. He is rumored to be signing a $28 million/5 year deal. Cardinal has averaged 7.5 ppg and 3.4 rebounds per game. His new deal is for $38 million over six seasons. Daniels has scored 8.5 ppg and averaged 2.1 assists. He, like Cardinal, appears headed for a $38 million/six year contract.

Doleac has mustered 5.6 ppg/3.6 rpg and is about to make $12 million over four years. Foyle, who at 4.6 ppg and 5.1 rpg, is about to sign for $42 million over six seasons. Hudson's career averages are 9.4 ppg and 3.6 apg. His newest contract will net him $31 million in five campaigns. Okur, fresh off a NBA title with Detroit, is the big winner. The man who has averaged 8.2 ppg and 5.3 rpg was about to join Utah for six years at a figure somewhere around $50 million.

Forget scoring titles, All-Star Game appearances, and MVP awards, not one has managed to average ten points a night for their career. I believe only Okur has won a championship, I admit I could be very wrong about that, but he barely saw the light of day down the playoff stretch.

When players posting big numbers sign big offers, it's commonplace. Crazy, but commonplace. Fans just expect the stars to live up to their previous high performance level. When unheard of players crank in lottery-like earnings, fans tend to get a bit impatient. They expect star caliber production from guys who have never achieved such heights.

Now, I'm sure some will think I'm player-hating here. Really, I'm pretty much pro-athlete when it comes to salaries. Unlike almost any other profession, athletes are not only the employee, but the product, as well. Even in professions where the employee is the product, how many of them face the same travel demands, media scrutiny and public criticism that athletes do? Few, if any.

I don't begrudge the players signing for that kind of cash, they are doing the smart thing, but these type of deals can cripple a team. They are big money, long term deals to players that from a distance appear to be slightly more than role players.

While few people not obsessed with pro hoops can tell me anything about these particular NBA free agents, many of them will become households names if they continue to post their career marks throughout the length of their new contracts. They will become the latest flag bearers of today's overpaid athlete.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

We Are # 7!

While Greece continues celebrating it's Euro 2004 title, the U.S.A. has a little bit to be proud of in the world of international football, as well. For the first time ever, the U.S. Men's National Team is ranked number seven in the latest FIFA poll.

Normally, being ranked number seven in just about anything is hardly cause for a party. The object is to be ranked first. Well, technically, winning is the objective, the @#$% with rankings, but I digress. However, I cannot help but be pleased by FIFA's latest poll.

There are two fairly simple reasons for my enjoyment over this. First, no U.S. squad has ever been ranked this high. For about the hundredth time, feel free to call me jingoistic, but I'm glad to see this country make progress in soccer. Unofficial and meaningless as it may seem, it's still a positive step for US Soccer.

Much to my surprise, football's govenring body, has the United States team ranked ahead of traditional super-powers England (8), Italy (9), Argentina (11) and Germany (12). Neighborhood rival, Mexico, is ranked just above the U.S. at number six in the world.

The second reason is I like to see this type of news is that it may be a sign the rest of the world just might be appreciating our nation's progress in "their" sport. Let's face it, the world loves their football in part because the U.S. has been somewhere between horrible and mediocre at it. They loved the States' inability to play at their level and continue to look down their collective noses at US Soccer, in general.

As examples, when the U.S.A. hosted the 1994 World Cup, the sport's elitists hated the fact the U.S. made the field merely as hosts. Sure, that was a traditional courtesy, but the U.S. had no right being there. The U.S. men held their own, although clearly not as good as the top teams in the world, but that mattered little.

Then came Korea/Japan 2002. The USMNT qualified out of a weak group, the critics lamented. Then, as the U.S. team had the nerve to advance to the quarterfinals, it was clear to many international observers that the fix was in. How else could you explain the United States winning?

In this enviroment, respect for the USMNT has come grudingly. To see FIFA, not exactly an organiztion I would deem pro-U.S., move the United States from ninth to seventh in their poll, perhaps is a sign that some in the football world are relenting just a bit.

In the end, the only way for the U.S. Men's National Team to gain any kind of respect world-wide is to win big games. They need to qualify for Germany 2006. Once there, they need to try and repeat their quarterfinal appearance of '02. Then, it's qualifying for South Africa in 2010.

I harbor no illusions of grandeur for the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team. In nations like Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy and most of the rest of the world, passion for football is equivalent to the passion of all of North America's team sports combined. Those countries should have an edge the States may never overcome.

So, if the USMNT doesn't capture the next World Cup, or the one after that, or the one that follows that, I couldn't be upset. I would just like to see the U.S. be competitive year-in and year-out and gain a bit of international respect. Being ranked amongst the top ten in the world is a step in that direction.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Big, Fat Greek Upset

Let me preface this post by stating I don't know much about European football. I have a general knowledge about the elite nations and clubs, but that's about it. However, from every source I can find, Greece's 1-0 triumph over Portugal at Euro 2004 is the biggest upset in the tournament's history.

The win, which was something like a 100/1 longshot, has shocked observers and sent Greece into a frenzy. I doubt even one player on Greece thought they would win the event before play began last month. However, one by one Europe's superpowers fell. Germany, Italy, Spain, France, England, Holland, the Czech Republic all stumbled.

That left only Greece and the host nation, Portugal. The hosts have a fine football squad buy all accounts. However, even their home field advantage at the European Championships weren't enough to stop the Greeks from completing a storybook run.

While few Americans saw it and even fewer cared to notice, the Grecian win is the reason we watch sports, isn't it? The hope that your team, no matter the odds, no matter the opponent, no matter the field of play, can overcome everything to capture a championship.

Next month, Greece will play host to the Summer Olympics and the world's attention will turn their way. However, I suspect the citizens of that nation will still have all their attention focused on the football title they never dreamed would be theirs.

This Is Sport?

As your basic sports addict, I watch lots of television. As such, a large portion of that time is spent with one of the ESPN family of networks. ESPN, once just a crazy idea, is now the brand name in sports television. They are, as they proclaim, "The Leaders in Sports". However, I've noticed a trend in their coverage that makes me wonder what direction they are heading.

For those of us old enough to remember the network, yes, there was just one then, ESPN was a unique experience. Australian Rules Football, college baseball, rodeo, anything and everything was broadcast to fill up a programming schedule devoid of the "big names" in sports. Televising MLB, NFL or NBA games on ESPN was a wild fantasy back then.

Obviously, things have changed. ESPN almost single handedly elevated college athletics, basketball and football in particular, to their current level of national popularity. Broadcasting the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, tennis' majors and some of golf's premier events is now commonplace. In fact, their gains in these areas have led to the birth of ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, ESPN Radio and, of course,

In light of this transformation from struggling network to global media force, I was checking out any number of ESPN venues this past weekend only to find SportsCenter informing me of the results of the annual Coney Island Hot Dog eating contest.

Frankly, pun intended, how does this event merit SportsCenter air time? Yeah, it's kind of famous. Is it sport, however? If it is, wouldn't every county fair's pie eating contest qualify for SportsCenter coverage? I have the same amount of respect for some overweight guy in rural America pounding down blueberry pie as I do some thin Japanese kid gorging himself on coneys just outside NYC.

Now, if watching overeating isn't enough, the premier sporting network offers us The World Series of Poker. Okay, I'll spot the network execs some slack here. Everyone is broadcasting poker. It's on the Travel Channel, for crying out loud. The Travel Channel.

I understand poker is the game du jour. Fine. It also costs probably next to nothing in broadcast dollars. No need for slow motion replay, blimps shots, tons of graphics or people to do all those jobs. So, the network is making a money grab. Understandable, but was the continous countdown (yes, a countdown) on the crawl during SportsCenter just a bit much?

Only two hours, fifteen minutes and twenty-six seconds until the World Series of Poker begins. Funny, isn't that how quickly ESPN bosses wished they could lose these type of events over two decades ago? Did I mention the poker tourney was also the big event on

In fact, now that I think about it, look at what else the network provides us. The X Games. Yes, I'm sure they get great ratings and I'm equally sure I am too old to comprehend interest in these fringe events, but when you are THE network, should you be brodcasting this stuff? Maybe at three in the morning, but in primetime?

What about the Outdoor Games? Dream Job, anyone? Playmakers? The made-for-tv movies? Look, I'm not opposed to all these non-mainstream events, but isn't this the type of programming ESPN was trying to emerge from twenty-five years ago?

ESPN is just the latest example of "the more things change, the more they stay the same" theory. In the end, I guess I can't complain too much. At least their programming choices leave me with more time to blog and more material to write about. Maybe that's something you should complain to ESPN about.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Le Tour

The Tour de France has begun and so has our annual month-long interest in the sport. Now, before you tell me "I'm still not interested in cycling", I meant that July is the one month of the year when any cycling event makes ESPN highlights and gets a paragraph or two in your local paper. The Tour is cycling's biggest event. Nothing comes close, especially for sports fans here in the U.S.A. You still may not care, but a few more than normal actually do.

Not surprisingly, I am one of them. I like the Tour. It provides a number of things I find entertaining about athletics. It's both a team and individual sport. It provides rewards for both speed and endurance. It's oozes with history and tradition. It also provides some of the most picturesque backgrounds in all of sport. Belgian villages complete with cobblestone roads, the Alps and the finale in Paris. Not even a great golf course provides that kind of diverse and sometimes inspiring scenery.

The Tour de France also provides me with a break. It's over in twenty-three days. I need not invest any more time than about a month pondering it. I'm not overwhelmed with pre-season hype. I do not have to sit through hours and hours of television analysis of the last event and hours more debating the next one. No mythical champions. No post-season. No strikes or lockouts. No salary cap considerations.

I watch today's race and, if it fits into my schedule, watch tomorrow's. When the event comes to an end. That's it. I have no desire to follow the sport beyond July and the media's lack of year round obsession with the event makes the Tour refreshing for me.

Sure, the Tour de France has it's share of problems. There are the constant charges about doping. There is the pettiness that surrounds all athletes. There is whining and crying about conditions, the course, the competitors. There is, of course, the influence of commercialism. These cyclists are like NASCAR drivers, covered in corporate logos. Those endorsements deals can influence race strategy. ("Hey, I've got an idea. Get one of your guys to break away from the pack, so our logo gets more time on worldwide tv.")

For those of us watching here in the States, there is also the Outdoor Life Network's Lance-hype machine that not only invades the broadcast, rightly so as the guy is trying for six straight yellow jersey, but in nearly every single commercial. It's basically, Lance TV.

However, for only three weeks, I can easily disregard the problems facing the Tour. Seriously, after the race is complete I won't hear another word about any of issues for over 330 days. I can also learn to ignore OLN's incessant Lance promotions. They've got to make their money where and when they can. Besides, Armstrong is the story, as OLN's Al Trautwig correctly points out.

So, tomorrow it's Stage Three. I'm not sure where it starts or where it ends, as I have yet to watch today. I don't know whether it's a time trial, a long journey through the French countryside or a climb through the mountians. I do know there's a race. Unless, there's a scheduled day off, there will be a race the day after, as well. For cycling, that's all I need to know.

All-Star Rosters Announced

I have a thought or two about this year's Major League Baseball All-Star Rosters. First, I was thrilled to see Detroit's Carlos Guillen make the team. He really has been the best shortstop in the American League this season. He may never have three months like this again, but since Opening Day Guillen has been better than Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, Michael Young (although, Young is a close second) and all the other big names at shorstop.

I was (and still am) amazed that Cleveland has four players on the American League roster. Matt Lawton, C.C. Sabathia, Ronnie Belliard and Victor Martinez will all represent the junior circuit on July 13. The question is why so many? I'll grant you Martinez, who has not only been an offensive force, but plays a tough position to fill-catcher. Yes, Sabathia, Lawton and Belliard have been very good, but lots of players have been. I never got the impression all four were much better, sans Martinez, than anyone else having a good year at their positions.

I'm equally surprised that Milwaukee got two All-Star selections and neither was Lyle Overbay. Overbay should be in Houston. He's amongst the N.L. leaders in average and runs batted in. Who would have I left off to put Overbay in? From a position standpoint, I would have taken him over Jim Thome and Sean Casey. From a team perspective, I probably would have taken Overbay ahead of Ben Sheets. Thome, Casey and Sheets are all deserving, but I think Overbay is equal to any of them. (I could be wrong, of course.)

The other noticable absences in the National League were Los Angeles' Adrian Beltre and Philadelphia's Bobby Abreu. One should get the roster spot opened up by Sean Casey's appearance on the disabled list (unless Overbay gets it). My guess is the spot will go to Beltre or Overbay. Abreu remains on the ballot for the 32nd player at and the league would probably like us fans to pick Abreu for them.

Then there is Carlos Beltran. He was with Kansas City of the American League and would have been a starter, but he got traded to Houston in the National League and finds himself outside looking in. MLB has decided Beltran can participate in the All-Star activities, but not the game, as he was not selected as a N.L. star.

Common sense should prevail here. Let Beltran play for the National League and create another spot for the American League. I'm sure Bud Selig could find another deserving player in the American League.

Baseball's All-Star Game for all of it's silliness, is still the best of the All-Star Games. It causes more controversy and discussion than all the other major sports all-star affairs combined.