Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Small Market Sympathy

For all those baseball fans who deplore the small market vs. big market era the sport is now in, here is a story that you should sympathize with. Everton, one of the Premiership's small market clubs, lost it's wonder boy today. Wayne Rooney, an 18 year old striker, has left his hometown team for the bigger checks written by European powerhouse Manchester United. It's your basic small market vs. big market scenario, English soccer style.

Everton not only loses a hometown hero, but due to the fact the deal happened so close to the transfer deadline, they will get no immediate help to fill Rooney's void. To make matters worse for Everton's fans, to maximize the fianancial deal, Manchester United will need to reach certain goals. Most of which appear to be related to the club's performance in the Premiership and Champions League.

To get the most money out of Man. U., Everton fans are going to have to hope the Reds have a great deal of success over the next several seasons. Basically, they will have to root for the enemy to see their club gain financial strength.

I've never been much of a small market supporter (no, I'm not a Yankees fan), but deals like this one do leave me wondering how long sports, or more importantly, sports fans, can take this sort of thing?


I just flipped on the tv to watch the World Cup of Hockey game between the United States and Canada only to find the Canadians wearing yellow sweaters. Not Tour de France leader jersey yellow. I guess that would be even worse. No, the Canadian National Team is wearing a jersey that is mustard yellow. Think Pittsburgh Pirates of the early 1970's.

It's still got a big old red Maple leaf right in the middle, but the remainder of the top is mustard yellow and black. It also has a patch indicating something with Winnipeg on it. I assume it's a salute to an old franchise, but it was quite a shock to see the Canadians in yellow.

I'm sure there is a perfectly good reason for this change, but when the Canadians have so many truly sharp looking jersey combinations already, why go with mustard yellow?

(Update: During the post-game show on CBC, Ron McLean said that the yellow jerseys were in honor of the Winnipeg team that represented Canada at the 1928 Olympics in Antwerp. That team captured the gold medal.)

Here's Your Chance Baseball Geeks

Jim Hawkins, of The Daily Oakland Press (Michigan), is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He is also serving on a special committee reviewing players not enshrined, but who merit a review. His column seems to imply that we should contact him with our ideas.

Here's your chance, fellow baseball geeks. Email Mr. Hawkins and let him know what you think. How often does anyone on the BBWAA even take suggestions? Give him some credit for that, too, when you contact him.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Transfer Deadline

Tuesday is the transfer deadline in the Premier League. I remain curious to see how Everton handles Wayne Rooney's request for a transfer. Manchester United and Newcastle United remain his primary suitors, although most everyone thinks it will be Man. U. who gains the young English striker.

As the hours tick away, I can only hope that if Everton does grab the cash for Rooney that they still have enough time to claim a couple of players that can help them this year.

Lions Diary

The march towards the regular season drags on. There is probably nothing worse in sports than the NFL's pre-season. Yeah, the football geeks amongst us love any and all football, but this pre-season vareity barely qualifies as football. Regardless, the Lions did play Saturday. Baltimore was the opposition.

The Ravens are very good defensively and looked like it in the first half. The Lions offense sputtered even with the first teamers in action. It really didn't get much better afterwards, either. The special teams still look horrible. The defense is tolerable. This week.

Individually, I liked the way Kevin Jones looked. Roy Williams caught his first passes of the pre-season, but he appears to be headed towards a typical rookie wideout season-inconsistent. Let's hope I am very wrong about that.

Thursday is the last exhibition tilt. Their is talk that none of the starters will play and that the Ford Field ushers and vendors will suit up for the second half. Even less than normal will be learned from the last glorified scrimmage of the year.

Sorry For The Delay

I realize I haven't posted much in recent days. It hasn't entirely been due to a lack of effort. I've been having some problems with Blogger loading (which has been terribly frustrating) and my PC has had issues in recent days. I apologize to the both of you who read this. I hope to post more consistently.

Olympic Recap

The Summer Games have concluded and I'm left with a few random thoughts and memories. I'm happy to see the U.S. Women's soccer team regain form and capture a gold medal. I'm one of those guys who still feels the women's World Cup victory, where Brandi Chastain made herself instantly famous, is one of the most overrated moments in sports history. That said, the core of this team, led by Mia Hamm, has elevated women's soccer to unimaginable levels in this country. They are pioneers in women's team athletics.

The women's hoops and softball squads were both terrific. The women's softball team was so good that their dominance threatens softball's future as an Olympic event.

What more can be said about the men's basketball squad? I'm sure I'll come up with something for a later post, but for now a bronze medal is about right considering the quality of play the U.S. side exhibited.

The U.S. swimmers were excellent, as they so often are. I suppose Michael Phelps is the big star of these Games.

Overall, this edition of the games will be noteworthy for the number of failed drug tests, indecisive decisions (see Paul Hamm) and the fact the event went off without a hitch (the tackling of a Brazilian marathon runner aside). Nice work, Athens.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

More USA Basketball Perspective

Jason Whitlock, a writer I really like, offers a perspective on the U.S. Olympic Basketball team I tend to disagree with at ESPN.com. His Page Two feature implies that those rooting against the U.S. squad are borderline racists. He suggests that this team of NBA stars, contrary to public opinion, does care and is working very hard. He's wrong, in part, on all three counts.

First, let me clarify one thing. As upset as I am about the U.S. team's sloppy play, I have never rooted against them. Sorry, I can't. When Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, LeBron James and their teammates agreed to play for the U.S., something that many other NBA stars passed on, they were my team. If that isn't the cool, politically correct, new world order thing to do, so be it.

However, just because I complain about them hardly qualifies me as a racist. Even a borderline one. Nor do I think rooting against them makes anyone a racist. While a certain percentage of those rooting against Team USA are certainly racists, that's not enough to suspect everyone of the same agenda. Some of us just don't like crappy basketball, especially when representing the United States on such a high profile stage.

Whitlock actually does a fine job dismissing his own assertions about caring and hard work. When he says that the U.S. men's basketball team cares about winning the Olympics, just not as much as swimmers and the track and field participants, that tells me they care, but only to a point. If you care, but only so much, are you really putting out your very best effort? If you aren't thrilled about practicing for the NBA season, the event you supposedly care most about, why would you really bust your behind to win a lesser title?

This is the reason such super patriots, as Whitlock calls people like me, are upset. I still place a high priority on winning the Olympic basketball tournament. Why? For the same reason Brazilians care about soccer and Canadians care about hockey. This is arguably the sport this country is known most for internationally. Our success is unmatched. To see the U.S. team struggle is not something I am going to accept happily.

I yell at this team, not because they are black or millionaires or NBA players. I yell because I want them to win the stinking gold medal. This usually gets me painted as jingoistic, not racist. Perhaps, this version of the U.S. Olympic basketball squad and I do have more in common than I thought. It seems no matter what we do, we are going to offend somebody.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Lions Diary

Due to all the OLB injuires, Teddy Lehman is moving from the middle linebacker to outside linebacker this weekend. The Oklahoma rookie, and Butkus Award Winner, was learning the inside spot behind Earl Holmes. Lehman will play the strong side spot, which this week means a close-up look at Ravens' tight end Todd Heap. That should be a very good initial test.

I'm sure the Lions' were counting on Lehman to contribute this year, but he may be more vital than ever with Boss Bailey's return from injury still undetermined.

Alien versus Predator

(Editor's Note: This is a non-sports related post. As always, I apologize in advance.)

It's time to close up Hollywood. Hot on the heels of Freddy versus Jason, a movie we were all impatiently awaiting, comes Alien versus Predator. Like the slasher movies that featured Freddy and Jason, both the Alien and Predator films had sequels all to themselves. Now, these two film legends meet in what we can only hope is a one-time deal.

Talk about originality. Starsky and Hutch, Charlie's Angels, S.W.A.T., Scooby Doo, Spiderman. Good thing for television, cartoons and video games or we might run out of feature film ideas altogether. Will the last one out of Hollywood please turn off the lights?

Rooney to Reds?

Pardon me as I take a quick aside. I see where Wayne Rooney may be sold to Manchester United. This is not good news. Yes, Everton needs the cash. Yes, even with Rooney the Toffees will be hardpressed to get near the top of the Premiership. Still, I don't like it. Everton fans just continue to suffer.

Stop The Dream Team Talk

Can we please stop referring to every Olympic Basketball team as The Dream Team? Now, with the men stumbling their way through Athens, the term is being given to the women's squad or even the softball team. Both are tremendously talented, but neither are dream teams by comparison.

That's the problem, of course, comparisons. The Dream Team, a.k.a. the 1992 U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball Team, was a once-in-a-lifetime assemblage. Led by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, arguably the three greatest players ever, that team rolled over everyone and dazzled the world. Not only was the team comprised of star players, but they were international celebrities playing a sport just reaching the pinnacle of it's worldwide appeal.

No other team will ever reach the status of the '92 squad and we should retire the term Dream Team, especially in basketball terms, in their honor.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Still Waiting For A Winner

For all those who follow Olympic athletics and wonder why their favorite sport never catches on, we need only look at the mess that is gymnastics. Paul Hamm may be, or may not be or may be one of two gold medal winners in the men's all-around. Of course, the event was completed days ago, but the "decision" is still up for debate.

It's bad enough so many sports are at the complete whim of judges, but to have the winner still not be official this many days later is plain ridiculous. It's time to place the sport's whose outcome is determined by judges into a separate class of exhibition events. Give out medals, perhaps lots of them, but de-emphasize their importance. If it's truly sport, the winners should be somewhat self-evident. Otherwise, it's an art contest and that comes down to personal preference not ability.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Abby's Road

Mia Hamm is the greatest women's soccer player ever. Even knowing as little as I do about soccer in general and the women's game specifically, I realize that. Something else I realize is that if the U.S. team is going to win a gold medal in Athens, much of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Abby Wambach.

Wambach is the dominant goal scorer on the women's squad. She is probably the most dominant scorer in the world right now. That's doesn't make her the most complete player, Hamm still owns that moniker. However, Wambach has the unique ability to finish. Being a natural goal scorer is a trait few have. This quality has Wambach positioned to become the U.S. Women Team's most recognizable player once Hamm departs from the international scene after the Olympics.

Monday morning the U.S. women face Germany in a semi-final match. Don't be surprised if Abby Wambach scores. She usually does.

Brave Old World

I keep thinking the Atlanta Braves are going to fade away, but they don't. It's almost September and a quick look at the standings reveal the Braves are where they have been for over a decade, atop the National League's Eastern Division. It amazing really. Lose Greg Maddux and they win. Lose Tom Glavine and they win. Lose Gary Sheffield and they win. Lose Javy Lopez and they win. Have Chipper Jones suffer through the worst season of his career and they win.

Bobby Cox probably won't be the manager of the year, as Tony LaRussa is guiding the Cardinals to unexpected success, but he should be. I'm not a huge fan of Cox, as his moves have confounded me from time to time throughout his time in Atlanta, but there is simply no denying his ability to manage. He wins no matter what hand he has been dealt. He has lost Hall of Fame caliber talent (Maddux, Glavine, etc...) and picked guys up off the scrap heap (Julio Franco, Jaret Wright, etc...) and still led the Braves to the post-season.

I know many feel the Braves have underachieved, in light of their consecutive post-season appearances, but Cox and company deserve some credit for consistently producing winning baseball teams regardless of the environment.

Lions Diary

The Honolulu Blue and Silver played a game against the Cleveland Browns Saturday afternoon, but, truth be told, I didn't see it. I actually do step away from my television and internet connection occasionally. Sometimes, I am away from both for hours and that was the case Saturday. Rest assured, being the geek I am, I did have my radio on.

Now, I didn't hear much, as I was in and out of my vehicle, so I can't make any definitive statements. Here is what it sounded like to me: The special teams coverage is not very special. That's two weeks in a row. Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend. Three times is a pattern and you've got problems.

The first team offense, especially the Joey Harrington to Charles Rogers combo, is improving. Kevin Jones got in and showed some spark. (I guess sounded like a spark is more appropriate.) It's time to get Roy Williams the ball, though, isn't it? He gone two games without a pass. That just seems odd.

The D is still a question mark. I heard OLB James Davis got hurt. I'm not sure if it's serious, but if they lose Davis, with Boss Bailey already on the shelf, that's not a good thing. The defensive backfield continues to nurse injuries, but 3/4 of them should be ready for Chicago on the Opening Week.

I'm still typical optimistic about the team, but I'm 8-8 optimistic, not 12-4 optimistic.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Failure Occurs Before Games

The fingerpointing associated with USA Basketball just seems to get worse everyday. Today, we can throw coach Larry Brown into the mix. There's more than enough blame to go around, but it seems obvious that the biggest problem for USA Basketball is the selection process.

The U.S. has only lost three Olympic hoop contests. The 1972 controversial loss was part defeat, part Cold War intrigue. It didn't signal a change in the balance of basketball supremacy. The 1988 loss, which ushered in the NBA's participation, was engineered mostly by a poor selection process. John Thompson, the Hall of Fame coach, loved defense. It's what made Georgetown a college power. However, Thompson's love of D, had him pick Olympians that would get playing time on the Hoyas, not succeed in the international format.

This year's team is also widely being criticized as poorly assembled. I cannot disagree. That means one could argue that two of the three Olympic losses were due, in part, to a poor selection process. What USA Basketball needs to do is something Hockey Canada learned long ago. When Canada's hockey honchos select Team Canada for the Olympics, Canada Cup or World Cup events, they always take plenty of superstars plus a few helpful role players to complete the roster.

When hockey's premier national squad takes to the ice, they are not a Dream Team. They have a nice sprinkling of muckers and grinders to keep some balance and do the dirty work. It's a concept that USA Basketball needs to adopt.

Next time the U.S.A. is called into action, the big names of the NBA would be welcome. So, too, should some specialists. Like a rebounder and a three point guy. A mid-range jump shooter. Role players. Guys who won't pout if they spend more time on the bench than on the floor.

Now, taking two or three of these guys is going to leave a few NBA superstars outside looking in. That won't sit well with some of them. Too bad. Maybe one or two of them might learn it's an honor to play.

Sure, even if David Stern is talked into such a plan at the expense of marketing another would-be superstar, there is no guarantee it's going to work. The selection process could be criticized again, especially if the U.S. doesn't win. However, if Canada's hockey success is any indication, it's worth a try.

Oh, No.

Allow me a moment to stray from sports. I noticed tonight that there's a frost/freeze advisory for the northern reaches of Minnesota and Wisconsin. All I can think of is "Oh, no." Living in a northern state, and sharing the Big Ten Confernece with the Gophers and Badgers, this little weather note is not comforting. It means the cold is on the way. Not that the changing leaves, the loss of sunshine or shelves of pumpkin themed displays at stores didn't go unnoticed, but a frost/freeze advisory? In August?!?! That's just plain painful.

I love autumn. I always like them to last a bit longer than the calendar calls for. I just prefer them to go into overtime (lasting until January 1), not start in the pre-season (August).

The Astros' Lost Season

I feel sorry for Houston Astros fans tonight. Andy Pettitte was placed on the disabled list today. Roger Clemens drove in a couple of runs, using his bat for good, only to get pulled because of a leg injury suffered while running the bases. So much was expected for Texas' National League entry when they signed Pettitte and Clemens and it has all fallen apart.

Injuries and age seem to be the primary culprits in Houston's disappointing campaign. Even the mid-season addition of multi-talented Carlos Beltran hasn't elevated the 'Stros. I feel for Houston baseball fans. They have had some fine teams, going back to the Jose Cruz, Sr., Terry Puhl, Glenn Davis days, but they haven't had any post-season success. This year, with future Hall of Fame member Clemens and Pettitte aboard, things were going to be different. Unfortunately, it looks all too familiar.


The United States' Men National soccer team played a World Cup qualifier in Kingston, Jamaica this evening. It was plain ugly from a U.S. perspective. I'm far from a soccer expert, but the U.S. squad appeared tentative early and never really emerged from that shell.

The home team went up 1-0 early in the second half and maintained that lead into the 88th minute. As time dwindled down, the Jamaican fans were getting ready to celebrate their first ever soccer win over the States. Fortunately, for the red, white and blue, sub Brian Ching found the back of the net with just under two minutes in regulation time. Ching knocked a pass from Landon Donovan into the top corner earning the U.S. a valuable point towards qualify for Germany 2006.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't what most U.S. supporters had hoped for, but it looks good right now.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Real Travesty

We are all jumping on the Men's U.S. Olympic basketball team and rightly so. However, as I was watching the television coverage this weekend, I was struck at something I consider nearly as appalling as USA Basketball's performance. The United States baseball team didn't even qualify for the Olympics.

Being a nutty baseball type to begin with, it's not like I didn't know the U.S. team failed to gain a berth in Athens. I just didn't know how I would feel when watching other teams run all over the diamond in Greece. Disappointed would be the obvious word, but I was more angry than that.

I know the Cubans send a pro team to the Summer Games. That's fine, but our college kids aren't even good enough to compete with the Japanese or Mexicans? Aren't most of their best players in Major League Baseball right now, too? Canada's baseball team made the field, for crying out loud. Good for our neighbors, but they aren't better than the United States.

Yeah, yeah, I'm jingoistic. I wasn't aware that was illegal. It isn't, is it? Regardless, I'm annoyed at USA Baseball. Something went wrong. I'm not going to pretend to know what, but it should get fixed quickly. Having a baseball tournament without the U.S. is ridiculous.

Brazilian would be in an uproar if they didn't qualify for the World Cup. Canadians would be upset if their national squad missed an Olympic hockey qualification. I think I have a right to be disgusted with the U.S. not making the baseball field in Athens.

It's not like I am saying I expect a gold medal, that's usually the domain of Cuba's national team, just an Olympic berth. I don't think expecting USA Baseball to be in the Olympics every four years is such an irrational, overly jingoistic ideal.

I really do feel bad for the young men who didn't get to go to Greece. I know they wanted to compete more than I wanted to watch them. They are probably having many of the same ideas about this as I am. Hopefully, by 2008, USA Baseball will be in the Olympic field. It's just a shame they aren't there now. I suspect the players would agree.

U.S. Upset

Embarrassment. Humiliation. Travesty. All words used to describe USA Basketball's demise at the hands of Puerto Rico in the Olympic tournament. Everyone is looking for answers. Can these guys just not shoot? Do they lack fundamentals? Was this team poorly assembled? Are they really this bad? Is the rest of the world really this good? All may be right to a certain degree, but one thing seems obvious to me. The problem is that the players on this team are not embarrassed or humiliated or find it a travesty that they lost.

This group of NBA stars has zero sense of Olympic history and plays like it. These NBA guys just don't get it. They don't care that, prior to their Puerto Rico disaster, the U.S. had lost only two games since 1936. Two games in sixty-eight years. Even the Globetrotters would be envious of that mark.

They don't care about those silver medals sitting in a European safety deposit box that the 1972 U.S. team refused to accept after their controversial, first-ever loss.

They don't care about those hundreds or maybe thousands of young men who have tried out for the U.S. team over the last half century, their only goal becoming a U.S. Olympian and, perhaps, claiming a gold medal, but couldn't make the team.

I have no doubt this team wants to win. Nearly every athlete in every sport does even with today's inflated salaries. The problem is that no one on this squad has passion for this event. They would love to win, but if they don't, there is always the next NBA season, the pursuit of a NBA crown and more paychecks.

That's, in part, what made the Dream Team in 1992 a dream team. They understood. They wanted the gold medal. They wanted to be a part of the U.S. Olympic basketball dynasty. They considered it part of their legacy. This U.S. team views the Olympics like a just another summer workout.

The 2004 U.S. squad has plenty of time and more than enough talent to regain its dignity and win a gold medal. That's a good thing because it sure doesn't look like this edition of USA Basketball has a clue about it's place in history.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Edgar's On The Edge

I can't decide if Edgar Martinez is a Hall of Famer or not. My rule of thumb for Hall of Fame admission is: if I have to consider it, then he probably isn't a Hall of Famer. I would never have to give any thought to Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams or Walter Johnson. When I think of Edgar Martinez, I have to pause. That's not a good start in my book.

However, Martinez offers one compelling stat in his favor. Martinez will post a career .300 batting average, .400 on base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. Those are easily Hall of Fame numbers. His two batting championship are nice, as well, but are these numbers alone worthy of Cooperstown?

Right now, I think he's not quite Hall of Fame material. I'm going to give it more thought, but when you enter the Hall, especially as a DH, you are going to need to post some crazy numbers. When guys like Eddie Murray and Paul Molitor, both of whom spent extended time at DH, can reach 500 homers or 3,000 hits, then you need to get close to that. Martinez won't.

Being one of the great hitters of his era and his .300/.400/.500 averages put Martinez on the edge of greatness. I just can't see what other data would help him get over the edge.

Lions Diary

The Detroit Lions played host to the Pittsburgh Steelers last night. It's pretty hard to gain much insight from a pre-season game and last night's tilt was no exception. As it was both teams' initial pre-season game, both starting lineups were gone early. Here's what stood out to me.

Joey Harrington and Charles Rogers looked like a Pro Bowl pass-and-catch combo until you factor in the Steelers played without their starting corners. Nonetheless, the combination did look good and took what was given them during their brief time on the field.

The Lions' defense didn't look good, but they played without their top three corners, as well. I'm sure Tommy Maddox, Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward would have chewed up the Lions' secondary even more had they played longer. Losing starter Brock Marion at safety (shoulder injury) would only have given Maddox more opportunities. Thankfully, it's only the pre-season.

I did like Artose Pinner. He's not Barry Sanders-Billy Sims special, but he runs a bit harder than I thought. I still have to think Kevin Jones is the starter-in-waiting, but he's got to recover from a hamstring injury first. Pinner did easy some of my concern about Jones' absence.

It's hard to get too wound up over the first game of the pre-season. Let's hope the Lions can get the injured healthy quickly and be ready for their second game of the exhibition schedule versus the Cleveland Browns.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Lions Diary

The first injury problem of the year has arisen. Linebacker Boss Bailey has returned to the University of Georgia to have his knee looked at. It's a knee he injured years ago. Bailey has basically missed all of camp and this doesn't bode well. In all likelihood, Bailey's knee will get scoped at UGA and he will miss two to four weeks minimum.

Obviously, panic has set in amongst the Honolulu Blue and Silver faithful. Bailey was starting to look like a potential difference maker towards the end of last season. His absence will definitely hurt as the Lions are not a deep team. They will need Bailey back, ASAP.

Kevin Jones, the first rounder out of Va. Tech, will not play Saturday, either. He's nursing a hamstring injury.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Maddux And The Pitchers Of This Era

Greg Maddux won his three hundredth game over the weekend. Maddux is a master craftsman in every sense. He has been a brilliant pitcher. He appears to have spent most of his career just out-thinking his opponents. His starts won't dazzle the average fan. He doesn't possess a blazing fastball. He isn't emotional. He just gets guys out and wins games. Technical, clinical, successful.

In spite of this being an era of record breaking offensive production, the exploits of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and other hitters grab the headlines, a number of pitchers have been spectacular. Maddux, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez would head the list of elite pitchers in this hitter friendly time.

When I think about the success these four have had, I wonder if I would take four other pitchers from any other era before them? A four man rotation of Maddux, Big Unit, The Rocket and Pedro. I think I'd take my chances with the four of them against any four in the history of the game.

Lions Diary

Well, the Lions open practice was a success. It drew around 41,000 down to Ford Field. I heard it was a madhouse, clearly revealing that Lions' Fever has already spread throughout the Motor City. Sure, free tickets were given away, but this team hasn't been good in a number of years. It's won one playoff game since Bobby Layne was at the helm. They haven't even won a single road game in years. Yet, the still appears to be no cure for Lions' Fever.

The fever is always worse this time of the year. Injuries are usually at a minimum. A new group of rookies have arrived. Often, there is a new coach or two. Young players are a year older. Optimism runs wild until the first exhibition game. This year, the excitement seems higher than normal. Color me cautiously optimistic.

Saturday is the Lions first pre-season tilt. The Pittsburgh Steelers stop by Detroit for a visit. I would think another good crowd, this time of paying customers, will be on hand. A good showing will only infect more people with Honolulu Blue and Silver Fever. Aaahh, the joys of being a Lions fan in early August.

Little League?

I see it's that time of the year, again. The Little League World Series is underway. I have no problem with Little League Baseball, I do, however, have a problem with ESPN televising so many of the games. I didn't mind that the championship game was broadcast, but coverage of regional contests is just ridiculous.

Right now, ESPN is showing the LLWS Great Lakes Regional contest and ESPN2 is broadcasting the game between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. This implies that the two events are of equal or nearly equal importance. That's laughable, of course. But, if you are one of the kids playing on ESPN explain that to them.

One day they are playing in front of parents and friends in some rural setting, the next round their team's game is on in primetime on the same network that shows Major League Baseball. Once you explain how this game isn't of any greater important just because it's on worldwide tv to the participants, then clarify it for their parents.

We already had to many horror stories about "Little League Parents" long before these games were on worldwide tv. How is broadcasting a LLWS game on ESPN, while relegating a MAJOR LEAGUE game to ESPN2 not going to make their game appear more important? Do you think these over zealous parents are going to back off because the cameras and lights go on?

Some will say don't watch. For them, I would point out that I'm not. (Technically, I'm typing this.) Some will argue these things happened thirty years ago, too. That's correct, but when some kid playing in the Great Lakes Regional in 1974 made an error to cost his team the game, only his community knew. Now, the kid is on international television in primetime.

We can't go back. I realize that. The ratings for the LLWS are probably good. At least, good for cable ratings in August. The games may even be profitable for ESPN. We all know that's the bottom line, literally and figuratively. Primetime games on cable tv's superpower. Regional coverage of playoff games. Ratings and possible profit for the network. I guess Little League isn't so little anymore.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

I Might Have A Favorite NASCAR Driver

I admit to not being much of a NASCAR fan. I know the names of most of the sport's participants, but I can't follow it with any passion. If I have a favorite driver, it would probably be Jeff Gordon. I chose Gordon mostly because so many of NASCAR's faithful hate the guy. However, I see I may have another potential favorite driver.

Casey Mears, the nephew of Indy 500 champion Rick Mears, is now on the NASCAR circuit.
Back when the Indianapolis 500 was American auto racing, Rick Mears captured the Brickyard title three times. He was, and still is, my favorite driver in auto racing. Now, that I see his nephew is on the NASCAR circuit, I may have to root for the guy.

For all I know, Casey Mears has been in NASCAR for years. However, by clinching today's pole at the Brickyard 400, he has caught my attention. I'd love to see Rick Mears' nephew win at Indy and follow in his uncle's footsteps.

Where is L.C.?

Today is Pro Football Hall of Fame induction day. Here is a good article from ESPN.com about Art Monk's and Harry Carson's omission from the Canton shrine. There are always players not enshrined in any Hall that merit the honor. However, one guy that really stands out today is L.C. Greenwood.

Greenwood's omission is made more glaring by today's induction of Minnesota great Carl Eller. Eller, like L.C., was a defensive end. Their era's crossed. Both played on great teams of the Seventies. Both were multiple time Pro Bowl selections. If you asked me which I would prefer, it would be hard to choose. Therein lies the point.

I'm not sure how the Hall of Fame voters view Eller worthy, but Greenwood not? I suspect that Eller's inclusion will, eventually, help Greenwood's chances. However, right now, Carl Eller gets to make a induction speech and L.C. Greenwood gets to watch on television.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Lions Diary

Today was a typical summer day in Michigan. Hot and humid. It was the kind of August day that I used to leave work early and head up to the Pontiac Silverdome. Years ago, the Detroit Lions training camp was held at the dome. Fans could attend the workouts for free. It was a cheap entertainment for followers of the Honolulu Blue and Silver.

Back then, we watched about one hundred would-be Lions in a variety of drills. Most of these guys wouldn't make the NFL, let alone the Lions, but it was fun for the diehard fans. You got close to the players and coaches. Over the years, I chatted with Lions' beat writers and some of the players at camp. It was good public relations for a team that really needed it.

However, when Matt Millen arrived he hated the openess of Lions' training camp. Apparently, it was the Oakland Raiders way to keep fans away from camp. Thus, Millen viewed all of the fans as a distraction. So, camp was first moved to Saginaw Valley State University, but we showed up there, too. Finally, the Lions built a closed compound in Allen Park where practices are now held in private.

Sunday, Millen gives the fans their annual bone. The single open pratice will be held at Ford Field. I've gotten less bitter about this over the last few years, although this post may not reveal it. Sunny, warm August days like today remind me of Lions training camps now long gone. If only the losing seaons were such a distant memory.

Sox, Yanks To Join Forces?

Did anyone else see this? It seems the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are in the preliminary stages of discussion about joining their cable television networks, YES (N.Y.) and NESN (Boston), into a single regional sports cable network superpower. Am I the only one who thinks this is a bad idea all over the place.

The most obvious reason I oppose this premise is that the last thing the Yankees and Red Sox need is more money. Do the Yanks and Sox really need to financially separate themselves further from the rest of baseball? I've never been one to rally behind the small market team debate, but moves like this one do give me reason to believe the big boys are getting just too big. Worse yet, there is talk that the Mets may join in. The Mets need money, too?

My second fear is the old pay-per-view concept. I could see the new network charging cable providers ridiculous high rates and, eventually, forcing fans into pay-per-view games. I cannot imagine paying extra to see a Yankees/Red Sox series on tv, but I can imagine them wanting me to.

There is also an even seedier side to this proposal. A merger of such rivals smacks of something worse than collusion. (Although, it would be collusion by New York and Boston against the rest of the game.) Such a deal leaves the door far too open for fixing games. Wouldn't ratings go up if the series between the game's biggest rivals were close? Wouldn't ad rates for those series go up significantly if the teams were close in the standings? Couldn't they charge even higher pay-per-view fees if the Yanks and Sox were, let's presume, only a game apart in September?

With all that potential shared revenue available, the possibility of something dirty occurring increases. Why wouldn't the ownership of both teams "encourage" the pennant race to be even tighter? I know what you are thinking. Brian, they aren't going to do that. Too much is at stake. Too many people would find out.

At the time, lots of people couldn't believe the White Sox threw the 1919 World Series. Today, far more people are in denial over Pete Rose's gambling problems. Even a larger number simply refuse to contemplate the indiscretion that Rose may have committed along the way. Why? It is just too inconceivable. The Black Sox and Rose lost their credibility for far less money than a Yankees/Red Sox cable television merger would create. Is throwing games today still that unimaginable?

Monday, August 02, 2004

Sorry Smarty

Smarty Jones, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Winner, retired today. Shockingly, horse racing continues. Yeah, I'm bitter. Not at the horse, but at the hype. Each year we go through this nonsense, the overhype of any potential Triple Crown champion, but the Smarty hype reached epidemic proportions.

After reading this story, I'm beginning to think that trainer John Servis is starting the believe all the stuff the National thoroughbred Racing Association, ESPN and NBC threw at us in record numbers. If you watched their coverage of horse racing's premier events you would have thought Smarty had already won the Triple Crown.

Servis' comment that Smarty could have "been the best of all time" is almost laughable now. When his unbelievable horse, the one destined to be greater than Man 'O War and Secretariat, got into the gate at the Arkansas Derby, many were concerned the Philadelphia horse would finish second and not make enough money to qualify for the Derby.

At one point of the Triple Crown chase, I heard Servis say he was just looking to get Smarty into the Derby. Apparently, Servis, who I like, has altered his opinion of his horse along the way. He went to dreaming of a Derby mount to figuring he had the greatest race horse in history. That's hindsight, I guess.

Smarty Jones wasn't the first horse to almost win a Triple Crown. Nor is he the second, third or fourth. In fact, I wouldn't even rank him amongst the top four horses to win two thirds of the Triple Crown. He didn't set one track record in Triple Crown race. Secretariat, who Servis implies Smarty could have conceivably been better than, owns the Derby and Belmont records and set the Pimilco mark, as well, but has an asterisk due to a timer's error. Three races, three track records. That, is greatness.

Smarty Jones is a very good horse with a heartwarming story and tons of media hype. That doesn't make him less of a champion. Nor would winning have made him the best of all-time. It's time some in the industry accept that they cannot generate an immortal horse. A legendary horse will arrive in time and will not need an ounce of media hype to prove their status. It will be obvious to all.

Lions Diary

Roy Williams signed with the Detroit Lions over the weekend. This is good for two reasons. One, and most importantly, the Lions need Williams. Their offense in 2003 was terrible. They couldn't catch the ball. In fact, they were perhaps the team with the worst hands in the entire league. Williams should help that quite a bit. His size and speed won't hurt, either. Lions' receivers have been devoid of both recently.

Combined with second year wideout Charles Rogers, the Lions have an tantalizing one-two receiver punch. That's quite a difference from last year's squad. Then there is reason number two that Williams arrival is such a welcome sight for me.

If Williams continued his holdout, the media would focus nearly all of their pre-season coverage on Williams' absence. He only missed about a day and a half and Williams' status was quickly becoming the story on sportstalk radio. With each day he missed, the onslaught of analysis would make the situation seem as tense as a James Bond movie.

You know the scene. The one where 007 is trying to defuse a bomb. Will he or won't he? Six days missing training camp. When will he sign? Seven days and counting. What if he signs late? What if he doesn't sign at all? Ten days. Red wire or yellow wire? The whole season is about to blow up! Aaahhhhhhhh!

Thankfully, the former Texas standout has inked a deal and is getting in his reps with the big boys. No need for any melodramatics. Just a need for a former All-American to become an All-Pro. Quickly, of course.