Friday, February 24, 2006
On the heels of the Winter Olympics, I understand that the average American sports fan probably isn't going to be in the mood for another international event. I can even comprehend why the average baseball fan isn't embracing the WBC. Baseball just doesn't have much international history to build on. (We all have fond memories of Ben Sheets stirring Olympic performance, don't we?) What little it does have is confined to amateur baseball which few people watch. In light of that, the collective apathy on display here in the United States is perfectly understandable.
The doomsayers, and there are plenty, have points of merit, as well. Could a player be seriously injured? Of course. Could losing a star cost a team it's chance at a World Series? Yes. Do all the players really want to play? Do they even want participate that much in a normal Spring Training environment? Of course, not. Is the event diminished because pitchers will be on pitch counts? Yes, it does.
Could the event be held at a better time of the year? Absolutely. I think between Thanksgiving and Christmas would be my first choice--marketing opportunities abound between the holidays (sell those Netherlands jerseys) and with college football winding down there is television time available. Are the rules regarding eligibility fuzzy to the point of being absurd? Yeah, probably, but does anyone think those Olympic downhill skiers from tropical locales are really living on an island most of the year?
Could Major League Baseball's initial foray into international competition been better constructed? Certainly, but to paraphrase a famous sailorman, the WBC is what it is. It's the inaugural event. It's a trial run. It's, hopefully, a warm-up for a bigger, better event down the road. It is, as many have accurately pointed out, much closer to an exhibition series. Again, the WBC is what it is--a Spring Training game.
After spending four paragraphs reviewing a partial list of objections, and agreeing with them, why do I still like this event? I like baseball. That's fairly well document around here. I like international events, too. Canada Cup hockey. World Cup soccer. Olympics--summer and winter. I watch them all. Put baseball and international competition together? What's not to like?
Oh, I admit there is a less positive side, but some of it's overblown. Players can get hurt, but they get hurt all the time. Some are injured falling down stairs or fishing. Would I like to see the eligibility rules more clearly defined? I guess so, but Steve Yzerman could have played for Canada in the Olympics if he chose to. Mr. Yzerman is now a United States citizen. Yet, I would not have lost sleep over Stevie Y. playing with a Maple Leaf on his jersey anymore than I am offended at Mike Piazza donning an Italy cap.
There are problems without a doubt. Yet, I think we are getting the cart before the horse. This isn't on the level of World Cup soccer by any means. Yeah, MLB's marketing arm is trying to shove it down our throats to a point, but let's keep this first one in perspective. Let's see what happens, both good and bad, and then draw some conclusions. I have limited expectations from this years WBC, but from my vantage point, I still see this tournament becoming significant.
All this event needs is history behind it. Rivalries need to be formed. Games need to be won in miraculous fashion and painful, perhaps, controversial losses need to occur. What the WBC needs most is passion. Right now, fans in the States just don't have an emotional investment. That kind of intensity, one which fuels debate over team selection and drives up television ratings, can only be built over time. This first WBC is just the platform on which that emotion will be built.
Now, you are probably still not willing to jump on board. That's fine. I expect to take this voyage alone. Baseball fans have over one hundred years of club baseball in their bloodstream. I don't expect you to suddenly toss your baseball priorities to your favorite MLB team to the curb, grab the old Stars and Stripes and embrace something that's in it's infancy. Of course, there are some folks who are more than warming up to WBC I.
Other nations, perhaps, all other nations in this tournament are geeked up about this. No, I don't mean their players. (Although, I suspect some of the players are, too.) I mean their fans. I've read where a number of foreign players are being pressured into playing. Fans in those countries embrace baseball, international competition and a chance at knocking off the U.S.A. at its own game. They expect their biggest stars to play. While they can continue to back-out, that strategy will only help them if their countrymen succeed. Fail, and those that took a pass might be under a bit more pressure next time around.
If you can't get behind some simple patriotism/jingoism (your choice), then, perhaps, I can get you to root for the success of the WBC for another reason. For all the things Bud Selig has done to annoy even the most casual baseball observer, in starting the WBC, he's done the right thing. Why? Because baseball really is an international sport. I've grown weary of hearing that it's not.
Just because Europeans are quite at the same level as Latin or Asian countries doesn't mean the Euros don't play or the sport isn't global. This isn't 1940. Participants are no longer limited to people living east of the Mississippi River and west of the Atlantic Ocean. I find this downplaying of baseball global appeal just a bit condescending. It's not global if the Europeans aren't good at it? No, it isn't as widely played as soccer, but baseball has reached beyond the U.S. Far beyond.
Another good reason to get behind this idea is that it takes money out of the pockets of the International Olympic Committee. It also annoys them (which delights me). The IOC wants baseball, but only if MLB stops it's regular season and plays during the Summer Games. They've been trying to blackmail Selig and USA Baseball for years--no MLB players, no baseball in the Olympics.
Sure enough, when a comprise wasn't reached, and the WBC appeared to be a reality, the IOC kicked baseball aside. To make matters worse, the IOC got so mad at MLB for denying the Olympic's superiority that they tossed out softball from the games, too. Why hurt the women because MLB players won't go? Because they are a spiteful, greedy lot. That's why.
So, while you might not like the timing of the WBC, remember it could be mid-July in China. The IOC could be making the money, too. Thanks to Selig's refusal to backdown from the IOC, we get the WBC. That alone should make everyone wish for the event to prosper.
All I ask is that you enter this event with an open mind. Don't raise your expectations beyond a reasonable level. Yes, pitchers will be on short leash. Yes, somebody may get injured. However, we might get some fairly entertaining baseball and the beginnings of something much better. It may not deserve the Classic tag, yet, but let's give it time.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Nearly everywhere I go now, I find someone talking about curling. I went to the hospital to have a test and what does the technician tell me? Her nephew curls at Bowling Green University. When I tell a long time friend of mine that I started curling what does he tell me? He watches curling all the time. He and his wife were debating going to Canada to catch a bonspeil in Ontario. Fellow blogger and DIBS member, Billfer claims to curl once a year.
It's even invaded my wife's place of work. Seems one of her co-workers and a husband of another co-worker watch curling on the CBC, as well. They watch for hours. I don't believe either have ever tossed a stone, but they are glued to their televisions listening to skips yell "Hard!". (Insert Brokeback Mountain joke here.)
When I heard at the Curling Club that the second most watched Winter Olympic event four years ago was curling, I just kind of wrote it off as stuff people who love their sport are apt to say. It had to be some sort of fuzzy math that came up with that stat. I never knew of anyone that really watched curling. That's before I mentioned to people that I was curling.
Now, curling fans seem to be coming at me from all directions. I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised to learn that there are lots of closet curling fans. After all, I never knew a single person that said they watched NASCAR, either. Now, stockcar fans are swarming us like locusts. (Sorry, for that analogy, Al.) Apparently, they were all in the closet, too. (Another Brokeback Mountain joke opportunity. I'll leave it to your discretion.)
The "outting" of curling fans is now in full flight as the Olympics have given the sport airtime on world wide television. The sport is buzzing with all kinds of attention. The question, as it was posed to us by another blogging friend, Iain, is why?
Honestly, I'm not quite sure. I laughed off curling in years past, too, so it's seemingly robust following has caught me off guard. Let's see if I can guess why people watch. First, and, perhaps, most importantly, curling is often associated with beer. Beer is popular, thus curling is popular. That explains some of the participants, but it doesn't explain those watching, does it? (Even if they are tipping a Molson's while watching.)
It's a simple game requiring some complex thought. (Wow, do I sound like Crash Davis there.) Skips, like baseball managers, are expected to think two and three steps ahead of where the game is now. If we do this, they will do this. Like bowling or billiards, you have to recognize angles. Shots often have to be hit at precise angles to create specific results. This type of thinking tends to attract certain kinds of people. There appears to be a number of engineers at the club where I curl. However, it takes more than a few engineers who like beer to prop up curling's television ratings.
In the end, I suspect curling's mass appeal comes from it's simplicity. Not much equipment--rocks, brooms, ice. Pretty simple to figure out where the target is. It's plenty big, too. It's pace of play is steady, but nowhere near fast. (Plenty of time to grab a snack or Labatt's between shots.) Young and old, men and women can play. Much like another game it's compared to, bowling, I think curling's ability to attract that broad audience lends itself to wider appeal. Only curling has a bit of je ne sais quoi.
Whatever it is, curling's become the flavor of the day. (Google's actually got their Olympic figure curling today. Two stones comprise the O's.) Who knew I was on the cutting edge of a new trend?
When we wonder why Detroit cannot seem to have a true, long term revitalization we need to look no further than the current controversy over The Detroit Zoo. The impasse over the Zoo's future is stuck exactly where the city as found itself for years--tangled in political in-fighting.
Everyone with a stake in the city's future, from public officials to private business, seem to be more worried about who gets the credit for a would-be Detroit revival, and lining up to cash in on it, that the city's progress comes in painfully slow baby steps. If it comes at all.
The battleground for Detroit's future is littered with disputes and distrust between the Mayor's office and city council, public and private organizations and the perpetual battle between the city and the region. Lying beneath the surface of all these economic and political conflicts is the ever-present racial undertones that paralyze the city, the region and the state's ability to move it's largest metropolis forward.
As I don't expect this political merry-go-round to stop anytime soon, I remain dubious of the city's latest renaissance. Like so many, I want to believe that Detroit can finally rebound from decades of loss, but the Zoo's plight only highlight problems that seem to have no answers. At a time when Detroit appeared to be on the doorstep of progress it appears that greed and political grandstanding remain the city's highest priority.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
* One thing I do enjoy about the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, in particular, is the parade of nations. (Fine, it's the only thing I really enjoy.) I shake my head seeing the athletes from nations that have absolutely zero, or next to zero, shot at snow. Here comes Bermuda's sole athlete out of the tunnel. Kenya? Kenya has a winter Olympic team? Does Kenya have winter? I mean they may call in winter, but that just means it's hot not boiling, right?
You know these folks representing countries that really don't have winter training facilities are living in other nations year round or hold dual citizenship. I find it mildly amusing to see such tropical and desert environments participating in the Winter Olympics.
* Just for the record, I can't stand the International Olympic Committee. I may have stated that on this blog before, but it bears repeating. I can't stand the IOC. They are, without question, the most insidious, duplicitous and corrupt body in sport and, perhaps, on Earth.
* I awake this morning to learn that Michelle Kwan may be forced out of the Games. It's too bad, but I'm left wondering if the U.S. skating officials that gave her an injury exemption made a solid decision? She's been such a force in her sport, I can see why they might give her a pass even if she really wasn't fit. However, when the Olympics only come around once every four years, it might be best to send those fully able to compete. Some will never get another shot at it.
* Then there is good old NBC. And CNBC. And MSNBC. And USA, too. Four networks, still mediocre coverage. Why in the world can the CBC show events live, but NBC gives us tape delay? I'm kind of a television geek, so I can navigate multiple channels rather well, but the problem is with numerous events and four networks in action, where on Earth am I supposed to begin my search? Even when I'm searching, I find events I'm not interested in or no Olympic coverage at all.
With all the cash NBC pays to cover the Games, they should just bite the bullet and give up their regular broadcast schedule and televise the Olympics full-time for two weeks. You can still do a condensed replay model each night, but let's see the games as they happen. Pretend it's as important as your own marketing would have us believe it is.
* As far as my viewing habits are concerned, I do like most of the skiing events. Speed skating is fine, too. Hockey, obviously, is on the watch list. As is curling, bobsledding and luge. Maybe skelton, too. If I can note a pattern, none of the sports decided by judges rank too high on my interest radar.
* On the heels of hosting several successful big time sporting events, some in Detroit may be pondering a Detroit Olympic bid. I love the idea, but can't get my brain to buy the concept. The Olympics simply require too many structures to be built. An Olympic stadium alone would be a fortune and what in the world would we do with it afterwards? Same for any number of other venues required to host either Summer or Winter Games. In spite of the fact I love the idea of a Detroit PSL bobsledding title, I don't find the concept of hosting an Olympics to be a sound one financially.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
As a sports fan since the mid-Seventies, I've had to accept a number of things. Expansion. Contraction. Teams changing cities. Big, big money contracts. Free agency. Salary caps. Players demanding to renegotiate contracts. Lockouts. Strikes. Lost seasons. Cheaters. The perpetual arrests. I've learned to deal with most of these things in a very constructive, patient and philosophical manner. Gambling on sports, however, I will never come to grips with.
I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to gambling on sports. If I were commissioner, I'd enact league bylaws to prohibit all the players from any form of wagering. Old fashioned? Yes. Unconstitutional? Perhaps, but gambling is still illegal in many states, so maybe not. Stubborn? Ridiculous? Overreaching? Absolutely.
Why do I hold such an anti-gambling stance? I guess it's because I don't want there to be any indication that the sports we watch are contrived. I don't even want to consider the possibility that the miracles of sports history were, perhaps, not quite so miraculous. I don't want anyone to think that the player on their team that made a huge mistake or played poorly in the big game did so because he might owe his bookie money. When it comes to gambling, opening the door even a little bit is opening Pandora's Box.
This is why I am so angry at Tocchet. The charges about to be brought against him are only going to stir sports talk radio debate about gambling. They are going to be the subject of endless columns. They are going to bring Pete Rose back to the forefront. I can do without all three, the latter, in particular. (I'll save my complete thoughts on Rose's situation for another post, as it's a big subject, but let's just say I'm not in favor of his inclusion in the Hall of Fame.)
Already, Frank Deford is wondering what all the fuss about gambling is for? (First two words in his piece? Pete Rose. Told you so.) After all, don't foreign lands use soccer results to determine lottery winnings? Yes, they do, Mr. Deford. The leagues openly condone and promote gambling on their sport as well. Did you also know that Germany just went through a huge scandal where referees were caught fixing soccer matches?
Do you know that a great many people think some foreign leagues, including some prominent ones, are fixed? That players don't always play quite as hard, especially late in the year? Do you know that most of the world still believes that when the U.S. team advanced in the last World Cup, the fix was in? Yeah, that open minded view of gambling has worked out real well.
Deford argues that other off-field problems should be a bigger concern. Sure, I'd love to see pro sports leagues go after players that beat their spouses, drive drunk or assault someone, but isn't that what our judicial system is supposed to do? The punishment for those missteps are not the league's jurisdiction, but few fans would argue if teams started to crack down on those players involved in such activity. Although, I suspect the ACLU might come knocking on their door.
When it comes to gambling, the general premise of the game is at stake. It's the league's primary job to keep their game away from such implications. If we took Deford's advice, don't you think most NFL fans would suspect the fix was in during the Super Bowl? I was rooting for the Steelers, but if I thought the league condoned gambling, even I might be tempted to think the refs might have money on the guys from Pittsburgh. Is that the kind of environment you desire?
Do we really want our pro leagues to start embracing gambling? Do we want to end up like international soccer fans, wondering if every blown call or bad play was unfortunate or predetermined? Do we want to wonder if every guy that misses a game is sitting out due to injury or is just doing someone a "favor"? Do we really want to even debate the legitimacy of gambling by our pro athletes? Thanks to Tocchet, we'll get no choice. The debate is on.
Regardless, we know what the deal is with Mr. Martz, don't we? Martz' arrival in Motown is one of high risk versus high reward. Few doubt Martz can develop quarterbacks. Many think Martz is the brightest offensive mind in the league. Much to my surprise, I understand Martz is quite the disciplinarian, as well. All pretty good things.
Conversely, we all realize that Martz brings baggage. He was serious ill most of this past off-season. We know he really covets the title of head coach, not offensive coordinator. Like most supposed geniuses, Martz lets his concepts get in the way of common sense from time to time. Martz' quirkiness (is that a word?) was revealed to all during this on again, off again negotiation process. These are all things that make you wonder why the Lions pursued Martz so hard.
However, I think I'm going to follow the notion provided by new Lions head coach, Rod Marinelli. At his introductory press conference, Marinelli made it clear to all that he prefers action over words. He said that there was often "too much talk" in football. He wanted to be judged by what we see on the field. Well, Coach, I'm on board.
I'm not going to worry about the Lions rookie leader, the new offensive coordinator, their relationship or much else about the make-up of Marinelli's new staff. No, what I am going to do is wait and see. I'm going to heed Marinelli's suggestion and have him prove to me that this new version of the Lions is different. Until I see the film, as the new guy likes to say, I'm reserving judgment. I'll probably stay a bit more stable this way.
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
Hines Ward- The guy was XL's MVP, so he clearly did something right. The bottom line is that Ward is not only a Pro Bowl receiver, but one of the best players in the game regardless of position. He can catch, block, run and even throw. Just a great football player. Period.
Bill Cowher- Monkey, removed from back. Probably secured a Hall of Fame spot with the win. A great coach finally gets his due.
Jerome Bettis- I was a bit surprised at the depth of the Bettis Lovefest, but he has been a great guy and an equally good player. Enjoy retirement and the ring, Bus.
Pittsburgh Steelers- Again, this is obvious. No, they didn't play well, they just won. Five Super Bowl Championships ties them with Dallas and San Francisco for the most titles.
Matt Hasselbeck- I may be in the minority here, but I thought he played pretty well. I thought the pressure might get him, and maybe it did on the interception, but I was impressed with his performance.
Ray Lewis' and his suit- I'm not a Ray Lewis fan, but he was on the NFL Network's pre and post-game shows and was as well dressed as anyone. Very sharp suit. I don't know who picked out his wardrobe, but they get a thumbs up from me. Lewis also was exceptionally kind to Cowher in the post-game interview. A show of class for the coach of a hated rival. Very nice, Ray.
Detroit- Yes, we are still in self congratulatory mode here. If there was ever a shock and awe campaign, last week in The D was it. Most of the events went off very well. The city looked as good as it has in decades. Detroit deserves another Super Bowl, if it wants it.
The XL Volunteers- They were ever-present. Helpful. Polite. Probably frozen by Saturday night. A tip of the cap to all who helped out.
Roger Penske- The SBXL Organizing Committee chairman gets credit for running the ship. Everyone from the NFL to the city government to the feds deserve praise for pulling off a solid event, but Penske was the guy calling the shots. Well done.
Officiating- You knew this was coming. The refs threw flags when they should not have. They missed calls. I thought they even made some stuff up. It was not a good night for the league's officials.
The Rules- Say what you want to about the guys in the stripes, but some of today's rules are crazy. The push off Darrell Jackson used in the end zone was a penalty. A ticky-tack penalty, but still a penalty. Like the Steelers' DB had any chance at making that play. Hasselbeck's non-fumble because of "contact" by a Steelers linebacker was called correctly, too. By rule, it's not a fumble. It's just a laughable rule. Don't even get me started on holding penalties.
Grey's Anatomy- Did you know that was coming up next?
Ben Roethlisberger- Big Ben was flat awful. The Steelers won in spite of him. Maybe he was hurt or something, but he just didn't look good at all. Of course, it doesn't say "Played Poorly" on his Super Bowl ring.
Jerramy Stevens- One TD catch, lots of drops. Most of the misses seemed liked they would have been deep in Pittsburgh territory. All of them hurt.
Grey's Anatomy- Did you know that was coming up next?
The Week Off- I hate the open week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It just overhypes the game. In general, I believe its a major reason so many Super Bowls have been rather pedestrian events. The teams are either out of rhythm or completed overwhelmed come two weeks later.
Steve Maruicci- Did anyone else hear him say on the NFL Network's pre-game show "That a young quarterback's best friends are his running game and a good defense"? Did anyone hear me scream back "Then why did you only give Kevin Jones the ball ten times a game?!?!?!"?
Grey's Anatomy- Did you know that was coming up next? "Yes, I did. Did you know that of the millions of potential viewers watching the Super Bowl only about one percent give a rat's behind about what comes on after the game?"
Commercials- As overhyped as the game and just as bad.
Halftime- This is a bit unfair, as I can't tell you what happened at the half. I changed channels. It's nothing against the Rolling Stones, per se, I'm just a hater when it comes to halftime entertainment.
The Game- Let's be honest. Super Bowl XL was a pretty lousy game. Outside of Seattle's first quarter success on offense, both teams looked bad on both sides of the ball all night long. It was another anti-climatic Super Bowl.
Steelers Offensive Game Plan- Ken Whisenhunt may have cost himself a head coaching job with that game plan. He does deserve credit for the reverse pass play call. Other than that, I'm struggling to find much I liked about his decisions.
The Seattle Whining- Enough already. Yeah, the officials didn't help. They botched some stuff that hurt you. They didn't make Stevens drop almost everything thrown his way. They didn't miss two field goals. They didn't blow coverage on the reverse pass play. They didn't allow the longest run is Super Bowl history. They didn't mismanage the clock at the end of both halves. They did, however, miss a Stevens fumble. The refs hurt, but didn't cost the Seahawks the game on their own.
Yes, the crowd was pro-Steelers. Pittsburgh and Detroit are only about five hours apart. Of course, their fans made the trip. The cities are very similar (built on manufacturing) and Jerome Bettis and Larry Foote are Detroit natives. I'm not surprised Detroit adopted the Steelers. Finally, the Steelers are a national favorite like Dallas, Miami, Oakland and a few other NFL teams. Winning four Super Bowls and having been a solid franchise for the better part of thirty seasons give you a national following. If the Lions played the Dolphins in Atlanta, I would expect it to be a pro-Dolphins crowd. (We can only hope.) It's not a conspiracy, its the residue of prolonged success.
The Weather- Rain moved in Thursday, followed by wet snow by midday Saturday. Ugly as it was, it was better weather than the last time the Super Bowl was in Michigan.
The Hype- I'm an old school guy. I'm never going to be comfortable with the fact the Super Bowl has gone from the championship of pro football to a pigskin Mardi Gras. The event is now bigger than the game. Call me nuts, I still prefer it the other way around.
Saturday, February 04, 2006
We know I have reservations about bringing Martz in to run Detroit offense. This Fox Sports.com story does nothing to diminish my fears. If they can't even get the guy to cooperate long enough to sign a contract, why do they think he's going to be easy to work with if he takes the job?
Thursday, February 02, 2006
We did make it down for the Motown Winter Blast this evening. It was busy, as expected, and in spite of the rain, things were going rather smoothly as far as I could tell.
As suggested previously, Mrs. B.B. took photos. The first is a look at the RenCen. The organizers did a tremendous job lighting the downtown area. The building in the foreground to the right had Super Bowl themed photos projected onto it. Very cool.
Unfortunately, the pictures didn't capture the projected images very well, so I'm not posting any here. I'm also wondering if the scene will lose something during daylight? You can't get images like this at noon.
A portion of Woodward Avenue aglow. The city was as clean and as vibrant as I have ever seen it. It was simply amazing. Photos alone don't tell the story.
Now, our shuttle bus ride back wasn't anything to be impressed with, but it was a minor problem in the big scope of things.
This shot is straight down Woodward looking north towards the Fox Theatre. You might be able to see the Fox's sign in the background.
The streets were loaded with people, as you might be able to tell if you look to the bottom right, and there were a number of parties underway.
Overall, we had a good time in the city Thursday night. The organizing committee, volunteers, sponsors and security force, especially Detroit's finest, deserve praise for their efforts.