Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The NBA is hopeless... and it doesn't care

The NBA season is one day old, and I am already prepared to confidently tell you:  The Washington Wizards will not win the championship this year.  They will not win the championship next year, either, nor the year after that, and so on.

Miami.  Oklahoma City.  L.A. (Lakers, then Clippers).  Denver.  Chicago with a healthy Derrick Rose.  Those are the championship contenders in the NBA right now.  That is all.

I'll grant an admiring honorable mention to San Antonio, Boston, Minnesota, and Memphis, all of them intriguing, all of them with fire and heart, and I love the passionate West Coast fans of Portland, Sacramento, and Golden State.  These are all bridesmaids, though, not true title threats.

All you want as a fan is hope.

I root for the Washington Redskins; Robert Griffin III gives me hope.  I root for the Washington Capitals; when the NHL returns, the Caps perpetually give me hope.  In baseball, I have assorted interests in the Detroit Tigers, the San Francisco Giants, the Washington Nationals, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Tampa Bay Rays; each of those teams gives me great hope, and then some.

I see no hope with the Washington Wizards.  I see no hope in the NBA.

Here's what we just saw in the completed Major League playoffs:
  • The team with the best record in the MLB, the Washington Nationals, came within one strike of knocking out the defending World Series champs, the St. Louis Cardinals, only to have the Cards conduct a heart-wrenching comeback.
  • One loss away from getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round, the gritty San Francisco Giants stormed back to win three straight games on the Cincinnati Reds' home turf -- and then conducted the feat again, winning three straight elimination games to knock out the Cardinals.
  • 40-year-old Raul Ibanez hit three different dramatic home runs, two to tie games in the ninth, one to win a game in the 12th, to shock the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers.
  • The New York Yankees' historically dominant lineup loaded with Hall of Famers was shut down by a remarkable Tigers pitching staff led by one of the all-time greats in Justin Verlander.
  • The underdog Giants roughed up the mighty Verlander and completed a mesmerizing four-game sweep of the Tigers to win the World Series title.

And all of that without mentioning the stirring Oakland Athletics, the most exciting first-round-and-out team ever.

The NBA wishes it could present such drama.

The 2012 Major League Baseball season delivered three different "Where did they come from?" teams in the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, and Washington Nationals; two dangerous up and coming powerhouses in the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves; a team that boasted clearly the top position player and pitcher in the majors in the Detroit Tigers; two fading talent-rich juggernauts in the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers; and the eventual champions of them all, the San Francisco Giants.

For the NBA to experience such a bonanza, we'd need the New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats to catch fire, the Miami Heat to show vulnerability, the Houston Rockets to take a major step forward, and we'd need several of the highest profiles favorites to fall on their faces and miss the postseason entirely, a la the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox.

*

Here's why the NBA doesn't care:

1.  The Tigers/Giants World Series received historically low ratings.
2.  A Heat/Lakers NBA Finals would receive massive ratings.

Game, set, match.

As a fan of the doomed-to-fail Washington Wizards, the only power I have is combining with others to convince owner Ted Leonsis (and his fellow owners) that this system doesn't work.  As long as he thinks it does, the league will keep on keepin' on.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frustrating news from the NHL

ESPN.com:  As NHL lockout drags, Winter Classic to be canceled, source says

I'm sorry -- that's disastrous.  The NHL and the players cannot let this happen.

There have been plenty of distractions for the casual hockey fan; for me, for example, the foremost item on my viewing agenda recently was the MLB playoffs / World Series.

Now baseball season is over and I'm realizing what my hockey-loving friends have been stressing about all along.  This hockey lockout is no joke and things are dire.  The NHL's top players (Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane come to mind first) are finding other rinks on which to spend their time; they know as well as anyone that there's no end in sight.  There could very well not be a 2012-2013 NHL season.

I'm not writing to take sides.

I'm simply writing to say that there better be a good reason canceling the Winter Classic.

With the exception of certain diehard cities, provinces, and states, the NHL has no traction in the sports culture outside of two events:  the Winter Classic on New Year's day and the Stanley Cup playoffs in April/May.  That's it.  Blame this upon whatever you'd like -- lack of coverage, ESPN myopia (or a vendetta after not getting the TV deal), a bias toward football -- but no casual fans care about anything else NHL-oriented.

For the sport to be healthy, the NHL's Winter Classic needs to be the equivalent of the NFL on Thanksgiving, the NBA on Christmas, and Major League Baseball on the 4th of July.

Last year, the NBA worked overtime to cut a deal with the players so they could open the season on Christmas.  It worked, and worked big-time.  If the NHL and its players care, it would do the same for January 1st.

But I just don't see the urgency -- and if they don't care, then neither will I.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Well, that was quick

And just like that, the baseball season is now over.

I am sour on two fronts:  I am a Tigers fan, so that was not the result I was hoping for; I am also a baseball fan, and so I dislike the day after the season ends more than any other day on the calendar.  It's a miserable day.

Things are, I'm sure you know, miserable in a different way, too -- I am watching with concern as Hurricane Sandy (the "Frankenstorm") is tormenting the East Coast.  We in Michigan are safe, but I have many friends and family in the storm's path.  They are prepared for power outages, high winds, torrents of rain, and, further north, blizzards.

It is all enough to make a person forget about an insignificant World Series result.

*

Not enough, however, to forget this:  Congratulations to the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants, a worthy title-holder.  The Giants' pitching was top-notch, their defense was remarkable, and their offense came through when they needed it.  This was a team effort of supremely championship quality.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bizarro World Series

Just because it would be the opposite of everything that has happened already:
  • the umpires will make several key correct calls that stand up under scrutiny
  • the Giants will touch up Justin Verlander
  • Buster Posey will outhit Miguel Cabrera -- at least, early on
  • Marco Scutaro's bat will go quiet
  • Hunter Pence's bat will wake up
  • Alex Avila, Omar Infante and Andy Dirks will outproduce Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta
  • Jose Valverde will pitch more effectively than Phil Coke
And lastly,
  • Everything will hang on Anibal Sanchez vs. Ryan Vogelsong
Here we go...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sprinting toward the title

It's not about the Detroit Tigers winning the ALCS, is it?  It's about the New York Yankees losing.  On the front page of ESPN.com is a full-blown picture of the forlorn Alex Rodriguez, with links aplenty beneath to assorted "What went wrong?" and "What do the Yanks do now?" types of stories.

And you wonder why intelligent sports fans shake their heads in disgust at ESPN?

(There is also a main mediawall item dedicated toward imagining if LeBron James was a Los Angeles Laker, which is a nice convergence of ESPN loves.  In the same vein, imagine if Tim Tebow were quarterbacking Dallas Cowboys...  Except -- yes, that column has already been written.  Way to go, Yahoo Contributor Network.)

*

Here's the important thing:  The Detroit Tigers are in the World Series, the American League standard bearers in 2012.  Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals topped the San Francisco Giants yesterday and are now a win away from the National League pennant.

Let's remember that these two teams finished the regular season with identical 88-74 records, tied for 11th best in the Major Leagues.  The Tigers' record was enough to win the AL Central, the Cards' record enough to grab the second NL wild card.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays went 90-72 and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were 89-73.  Neither one qualified for the postseason.

There's a baseball cliche that says the season is "a marathon, not a sprint."  Well, no.  The regular season most definitely has its marathon aspects, particularly when the dog days of July and August come around and everyone's energy starts to lag.

The postseason, however, is most certainly a sprint.

The initial round now is a one-game elimination between wild cards.  No marathon there.  The next round is a best-of-five; a team with a true ace, like the Tigers' Justin Verlander, merely needs to ride him onward.  The league championship series stretches to a best-of-seven, but it too can end in a flash, to the bitter disappointment of Yankees fans.  A dramatic ninth inning comeback in Game 1 seemed to give the New Yorkers momentum -- yet their season was over before a full week had passed.  The Giants have found themselves in nearly the same straits, splitting two games at home before falling quickly in two straight at St. Louis.  Today their season is on the line.

There is a roar of protest to lengthen things out, perhaps in turning the initial wild card series into a best-of-three or best-of-five, perhaps in turning the divisional series round into a best-of-seven.  Phooey to that.  If you want to hoist the trophy as the best team in baseball:  Win.  Losing only leaves you with the other also-rans.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rain, rain

In case you ever wanted a taste of what it's like to work in baseball, here you are:  Our reaction to rain season-round is the same as your reaction to rain in the playoffs.  Rain is a Grinch.  It steals the joy of baseball from us.

The MLB postseason is not the NBA postseason.  There are games virtually every day, with the excusable idle 24 hours for travel, causing a rush of emotions all the way up until the World Series.

There's no time to celebrate a fantastic win -- the Nats and Athletics saw the jubilation of a walk-off win turn into elimination a day later; the Orioles and Yankees traded classic, gut-wrenching triumphs, dispelling any thoughts of momentum.

I can clearly remember two rain-hampered events in relatively recent baseball history:

* The 2008 World Series between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, with the decisive Game 5 begun on October 27th and concluded on October 29th, sapping the Fall Classic of its dramatic momentum

* The one that frustrated me most as a kid, the 1990 Major League All-Star Game, which never gained a rhythm after a 17-minute rain delay held up the first pitch and a further 68-minute delay interrupted the seventh inning.  I was eight years old, watching from my grandparents' house on Long Island, and I remember being highly upset when the network airing the game, CBS, chose to run "Rescue 911" during the latter rain delay.  I'm not sure I ever realized that the game was being resumed.

I bring all of this up because the Tigers and Yankees were rained out last night.  It's not looking all that great in Detroit today, either, but I'm hoping against hope.

People complain about Christmas-creep, stretching in closer and closer, overtaking Thanksgiving...

This is definitely Grinch-like.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One last word on Stephen Strasburg...

It is a simplistic and misleading argument to suggest that a Nationals team with an active Stephen Strasburg triumphs over the Cardinals.

The Washington Nationals lost their playoff series to the St. Louis Cardinals because:

1)  One of their best pitchers during the regular season, Jordan Zimmermann, was blasted in Game 2.  Whether or not Stephen Strasburg was available for the series, Zimmermann was always going to get a start.

2)  Their offense was shut out in Game 3.  (Perhaps Strasburg could have supplied some offense?)

3)  Their bullpen allowed seven runs in five innings in Game 2, four runs in four innings in Game 3, and six runs in four innings in Game 5.  (Note that Strasburg would have likely pitched only six innings in his start at the most, necessitating a relief effort.)

4)  Their closer was on the mound with two outs, two strikes, and a two-run lead -- and this is a place where any team would want to be, one strike away from advancing.  (Besides, it was inexcusable for the Nats to choose not to intentionally walk Pete Kozma with pitcher Jason Motte waiting on deck, thus keeping the score tied 7-7 en route to the bottom of the ninth.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Learning the wrong lesson from Justin Verlander

Last night, Justin Verlander did something that was just wonderful.

The Old Dominion product struck out 11 Oakland Athletics in a four-hit shutout to launch the Detroit Tigers into the American League Championship Series.

There, say all sorts of seamheads (including me), is an honest to goodness ace.  And, yes, Verlander truly was brilliant, virtually eliminating the A's single-handedly.  Here's the problem, however:  This now convinces all sorts of envious folks that their team needs a #1 pitcher like Justin Verlander, too, if ever they're going to be able to compete.

Well, no.

1)  There are very few Justin Verlanders in this world.  He was selected 2nd overall in the 2004 draft (behind Matt Bush - oy).  He's tall and strong and fiercely competitive and he's stayed healthy.  That's a pitching bingo.

2)  In the playoffs, anyone can pitch like an ace.  Witness the following:  Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Joe Saunders -- lesser-known lights who've gobsmacked a highly-paid, highly-decorated New York Yankees lineup, and this while the Yankees' Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, C.C. Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte have also pitched brilliantly.  Others stepping up:  Oakland's Brett Anderson, Washington's Ross Detwiler, Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo.

3)  Depth is far better than a solitary arm.  It's not Justin Verlander alone that makes the Tigers a World Series contender.  It's Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez, the rest of the starting rotation, each one acquired via trade.  Besides, if not for the shakiness of the Tigers' bullpen, Detroit doesn't even need Verlander to carry them past Oakland.  An unreliable reliever (I'm looking at you, Papa Grande) has a way of canceling out a fantastic starter.

This is the way of the world.  Tom Brady won't win every Super Bowl, LeBron James won't win every NBA title, and we won't all marry Laura Vandervoort.  So what?  Seems to me we can all live pretty happy existences as it is, each one of us finding our recipe toward joy, triumph, and success.

I appreciate Justin Verlander and Miguel Gonzalez in entirely different ways, but I appreciate them both all the same.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Yes, you could just give the Giants credit, but...

Have you ever heard the old sports adage "More games are lost than won"?

Whoever came up with that was a pessimistic chump.

Yes, the coiner of the slogan might say, of course I know that exactly as many games are won as are lost... but more often than not, the loser does something specific to lose the game rather than the winner does something great to win it.

I was rooting for the San Francisco Giants to oust the Cincinnati Reds.  Therefore, it seems clear to me, this was a dramatic comeback from a fiery Giants team, overcoming a 2-0 deficit with three straight wins at Cincy.

Or, you know, you could declare that the Reds collapsed under pressure and choked it away.  Whatever floats your glass-half-empty boat.

I don't mind a Reds fan taking this tact.  I'd expect Reds fans are sick to their stomach right now and are looking for a scapegoat.  If, on the other hand, you did not have a rooting interest in either the Giants or the Reds, why pillory a team at the expense of giving credit to the other?

Credit where credit is due:  Raul Ibanez beat the Orioles last night, followed by the A's rallying back to beat Jose Valverde and the Tigers.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals' offense has solved the Nats' bullpen.

Period.

*

Also, Buster Posey is terrific.  That is all.

Alex Rodriguez is no Raul Ibanez

Alex Rodriguez, statistically, is one of the greatest players in the history of baseball.  In fact, when he retires, there is an excellent argument that, statistically, he'll be one of the top five players ever.

It's necessary to include "statistically" in these statements about A-Rod.

You see, purely anecdotally, he stinks.

Consider:
  • He's paid far too much money.
  • He juiced.
  • He's a Yankee.
  • His own fans hate him.
  • He gets way too much tabloid coverage than he has ever deserved.
  • He can't hit when the chips are down.  (To cherry-pick with a measure of bias:  1-for-14 in the 2006 ALDS vs. Detroit; 4-for-21 in the 2010 ALCS vs. Texas; 2-for-18 in the 2011 ALDS vs. Detroit; 1-for-12 in the 2012 ALDS vs. Baltimore so far, including seven strikeouts.)
I blame the convergence of three things:  1) His contract is outlandish, 2) He's handsome, charismatic, narcissistic, and stupid enough to pile up the perfect gossip-friendly love life, and 3) He's a Yankee.  (When he was a Mariner, who cared?)

As an opposing fan, I love seeing A-Rod at the plate in a crucial spot.  Yankee fans know:  He simply isn't going to come through.

Last night, the Yanks beat the Orioles because Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for A-Rod in the 9th and tied the game with a dramatic homer.  Ibanez then homered again in the 12th to win it.  (As someone who was rooting for the Orioles, this was not fun to watch.)  Yes, Alex Rodriguez statistically is far better than Raul Ibanez -- and yet New York's chances of winning went up exponentially the very moment A-Rod was taken out of the game.

There is no way to sensibly rationalize this:  The historically talented Alex Rodriguez is detrimental to his team's success.  He's one of the greatest players ever -- and you'd never want him on your team.

Our grandchildren, pouring over the stats on their new sabermetric-friendly iPhone 25, will never believe us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Money doesn't talk, it swears

If you'd like to see which sports teams and leagues are the most profitable, look to the TV deals.  As for stadiums, well, don't look there.  Read Neil deMause's (unprinted) op-ed on Nationals Park.

Here's my Good Point essay on the same tact, opining why a high-paid ballplayer is a good thing and a high-cost stadium is not.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why is the Triple Crown so damn cool?

by Keaton Cory

Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown has now sunk in to me.  The brodacious t-shirts are printed.  We will see those shirts worn by diehard Tigers fans for years. That is the kind of shirt my future unborn children would be stoked to find in a box that was lost and forgotten in my future basement.

I’ve read a handful of "The Triple Crown is Nonsense" type articles recently. I disagree. There’s so much sense in the Triple Crown. I love it and think it is one of the coolest accomplishments in the game. There is the distinct possibility that we never see this feat happen in our lifetimes again.

Brian Kenny’s “nonsense” article lays out a well-researched and thoughtful argument, though the headline is a bit of a reach because Kenny says he loves the place the Triple Crown has in baseball history. If something has a meaningful place in baseball history, it cannot be nonsense.

One argument is that batting average, home runs and runs batted in are a silly grouping of three stats. Why are these clearly flawed and seemingly random numbers the ones we choose to measure offensive greatness? We have the power to pick three other stats that tell the story better.

Personally, I love these three stats together. AVG, HR and RBI are the headline to a monster offensive season. They grab your attention by screaming “Hey! This guy just had a gargantuan year at the plate!” We will never see a fluky Triple Crown winner. If someone leads the league in those three categories there is no doubt that this guy was one of the best in the league that season.

The Triple Crown is won with help from your teammates, skill and a little luck. When you combine those three ingredients just right during the six-month season, the summer becomes special.

The sabermetrics and more complex stats are the details to the story of Miggy’s 2012. They tell you why he was such a bro king at the plate.

The Triple Crown stats are an effective headline because they cut through all of the bull and tell you about Miggy’s production. Plain and simple, I know that he mashed 44 dingers and I know that Cabrera is directly responsible for 139 of the runs that the Tigers scored this season. I do not care how he drove those runs in. Once you have reached the big leagues, wins jump to your number one priority. When you are climbing the ladder of the minor leagues, winning is cool but priority #1 is player development.

If I am a Tigers fan the most important thing to me is that Detroit scores more runs than the other team. Whether Cabrera hits a tape measure bomb or taps a little swinging bunt that goes 14 feet to drive in Austin Jackson from third, I am going to be up and cheering regardless. I cheer for production.

We celebrate the Triple Crown like we celebrate when someone hits for the cycle, goes 6-for-6 or tosses a perfect game. It is a wonderful accomplishment that feels special.

Unfortunately for Tigers fans, the Triple Crown does not guarantee the MVP award just like throwing a perfect game does not make you a shoe-in for the Cy Young.

When we look back at this year in the history books one of the first talking points of Mike Trout’s 2012 MVP campaign will be… “He was so good that year that he beat out Miggy for the MVP even though Cabrera got the Triple Crown that season.”

Because all Triple Crown discussions lead to AL MVP arguments, I think Mike was the most VALUABLE player this season and I think the voters will see that.

For the record though, the Triple Crown is wayyyy cooler than the MVP and I would, beyond all doubt, trade an MVP for a Triple Crown.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wide Open

ESPN has a ton of baseball experts.  ESPN asked these baseball  experts to pick the Major League playoffs.  They came back with eight different World Series winners.

That's remarkable.

Usually, you'll hear about eight different potential World Series winners at the start of the season.  Not at the start of the playoffs.  Not when only 10 teams even make the playoffs.

Everyone but the Cardinals was picked in the National League (though Mark Simon did pick them to make the World Series).  Everyone but the Orioles was picked in the American League.

Do you remember when the big criticism with baseball was unbalance?  At the start of the season, it was sneered, we know exactly who's going to make the playoffs and exactly who won't.  Plus, the Yankees were buying every big talent in sight -- it was awful.  Most of the teams simply didn't have a chance to compete.

Boom.  Solved.

(Almost.  There are avenues still to be crossed, but at least they're making inroads.)

Here's the playoff lineup:

The American League
  • The New York Yankees, the traditional powerhouse and bully
  • The Baltimore Orioles, the longtime doormat with newfound magic
  • The Detroit Tigers, possessing the Major Leagues' best pitcher and best hitter
  • The Oakland Athletics, the sizzling, low-salaried, anonymous underdog
  • The Texas Rangers, the back-to-back World Series runner-up


The National League
  • The Washington Nationals, the surprising upstarts built on starting pitching
  • The Atlanta Braves, the 1990s dynasty with a remarkable new group of arms
  • The Cincinnati Reds, all-around excellence with an unhittable young closer
  • The St. Louis Cardinals, the defending World Series champions
  • The San Francisco Giants, the 2010 champs, who simply find ways to win

*

5:07 p.m.:  St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves
8:07 p.m.:  Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers

Let's get it on.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I like Mike

After watching the debate last night, I've come to a decision:

I'm voting Mike Trout for American League MVP.

Well, okay, I'm not really voting.  I don't have a vote.  Still, this seems to me to be an issue that an educated baseball fan should take a side on, much like Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame, steroids and the Hall of Fame, and the Designated Hitter.  Now I've got my side.

Before I give you specific reasons why I support Trout, I'll offer up my first piece written for Ballpark Digest, The Official American League MVP debate.  I think it states both sides pretty succinctly.

(My opinions, in order:  Put him in, but write about the gambling on his plaque.  Bonds - yes, Clemens - yes, Sosa and Palmeiro - no.  Get rid of it.)

*

Following the actual presidential debate, political pundits struck me as disturbingly similar to ESPN's cast of sports analysts, experts, and insiders.  There were a whole lot of words being spoken, but there wasn't a whole lot being said.  Worse, the pundits are immediately gratingly arrogant in the clueless Skip Bayless/Stephen A. mold.  Every word they speak is the gospel truth... so why aren't you taking notes?  (Or, better yet, kissing their feet?)

It does not help that their language is rooted in hyperbole.  Every moment could be crucial.  With a poor performance, Mitt Romney could have lost the Presidency last night.  Instead he remade himself.  (In much the same vein, I think I heard that the next Dallas Cowboys loss may very well prove the end of the franchise's playoff hopes this season -- and perhaps the end of the franchise entirely.)

My vote is locked in -- I know exactly who my chosen candidate is and I greatly doubt anything from this point out will dissuade me.

Still, I watch... because you never know, right?

*

Weird theory:  Allegedly, Abraham Lincoln spoke in a relatively high-pitched voice, far removed from any of the dramatically baritone recitations of the Gettysburg Address you'll hear today.  No wonder Stephen Douglas beat him in 1858.  (I bet the Skip Baylesses of the day went around crowing from local mountaintops while the political sabermetrics people were outraged.  Seriously, who was better at WAR than Abraham Lincoln?)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

King of the Mountain

The last day of the Major League Baseball regular season, not unlike the last day of the school year, carries great relief for some and great excitement for others.

Last year's final day of the regular season was, unanimously, The Greatest Regular Season Day in Baseball History, with the Cardinals leapfrogging the Braves in the National League while the Orioles, Yankees, and Rays conspired to break Red Sox hearts in the American League (and how awesome was that?).

This year, today, we'll have:

3:35 p.m:  Oakland Athletics vs. the Texas Rangers, AL West title to the victor
7:00 p.m.:  Baltimore Orioles vs. Tampa Bay Rays / New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox; an Oriole win and a Yankee loss would tie the teams for the AL East title and force a one-game playoff

Bring it, and then bring on the playoffs, starting with a crazy one-game Wild Card matchup on Thursday.

I'm psyched.

*

Baseball is on top of the sports mountain right now.  It's being played at a high quality by a high number of teams unencumbered by salary restrictions or imbalances.  The Yankees and Orioles are even; the Athletics and Rangers are even; the Giants are better than the Dodgers.

This is fantastic.

Consider:
  • The NHL is in lockout.
  • The NBA has several dynamic, star-loaded teams, so it's pretty darn awesome in Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City, and Chicago, to a lesser extent in Denver, San Antonio, and Boston, and maybe Minnesota three years down the line.  Otherwise, feh.
  • The NFL is dealing with scandal after scandal, from bounties to replacement refs, and 99% of its headlines deal with injuries.  That's seriously awful -- forget rooting for a team, root for good health!  The Jets' season has been torpedoed already by injuries to Darrelle Revis, the league's best cornerback, and Santonio Holmes, the team's best receiver.  My Redskins lost their best defensive end, Brian Orakpo, and best defensive tackle, Adam Carriker, for the season - and that was in one game alone.  Injuries crush a sport, and no athletes get injured like NFL athletes.
Consider, too:
  • The NFL has Tim Tebow, a divisive figure who causes football fans to argue over whether he's any good or whether he just stinks.
  • Major League Baseball has Mike Trout, a divisive figure only in that he causes baseball fans to argue, "Yes, he's good -- but is he as good as Miguel Cabrera this year?"
In 2011, even beyond the remarkable last day of the regular season, baseball showcased a tremendous postseason capped with a World Series for the ages between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.

In 2012, the game has continued its excellence:  seven no-hitters; Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown campaign; outstanding rookie debuts from Trout and Bryce Harper; the heart-warming emergence of 37-year-old knuckleballing R.A. Dickey; the first official at-bat for Adam Greenberg; utterly magnificent catches by Trout and the Pirates' Travis Snider; and playoff invitations for the surprising Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.

It's a fine time to be a fan of the national pastime.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Champagne Showers

From 2006 through 2008, I broadcasted for three consecutive league champions.  In the process, I bathed in six different champagne celebrations, much like the ones the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, and Oakland Athletics all enjoyed last night.

It's a singular experience.  It never gets old.

A champagne shower features the best kind of madness.  Everyone is euphoric, and it's all the more heightened by sharing it with the guys who've shared the past exhausting, taxing, challenging months at your side -- and it's all been worth it.

In the midst of the shower, bear hugs and high praise are given out freely; the compliments you receive in a champaign shower come from that place in the heart only reachable in times of great joy and drunkenness.

Standing 5'7 (or perhaps 5'6 and a half) in the midst of a room filled with six-footers, I have had champagne poured on my head and down my face and back, and since I wasn't wearing goggles, it swept burningly into my eyes.  And so there I stood, my hair and shirt soaked, my arms raised high in the air, laughing and shouting, my eyes tightly closed.  If I wanted to imagine it, I might have been all alone in my exultation.  But no one is alone in a champagne shower -- it's an individual memory that belongs to the team.

Those memories will keep me company for decades to follow.

*

My favorite MLB champagne shower moment belongs to Kenny Rogers, 2006, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher, bringing champagne out and pouring drinks for all of the security guards and police officers at Comerica Park.  A celebration really is about shared joy.

*

I am, mostly, a non-drinker.  (I would love to acquire a taste for wine, but it hasn't happened yet.)  I do not imbibe at a champagne shower anything more than what is poured on my head and finds its way into my mouth.

It is an idle fantasy of mine, following a champagne shower, to be pulled over by a random police check.  Then, smelling alcohol all over me, the officer asks me to step out of the car, breathe into the breathalyzer, walk a straight line, and say the alphabet.  I pass with flying colors, smile from ear to ear, and wish the officer well before driving away.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chokers

Let's talk, briefly, about the Ryder Cup.

Personal outrage has a way of simmering beneath the surface, waiting for days or weeks to boil over and taking a great long while to heal.  Sports outrage is the opposite.  It comes out of nowhere, erupting passionately, and then tends to disappear when you're not paying attention, rather like hiccups.

That was the referee lockout:  We were irate about the replacement refs, and then the lockout ended, the real refs came back, and we've all moved on.

The U.S. choked away the Ryder Cup, blowing a 10-6 lead entering Sunday.  Our reaction, day by day:

Friday - Hey, look, the Ryder Cup's started.  Cool.
Saturday - Who's winning?  The U.S.?  10-6?  Awesome, go U.S.
Sunday - Europe won?!?!?  Chokers!

For a brief moment, we were upset.  What happened?  (I'm listening to the Tony Kornheiser Radio Show right now and he and Michael Wilbon are killing the U.S. team and the state of golfing in the U.S. in general.)

We have been similarly short-term outraged in recent weeks and months by...
  • Stephen Strasburg's shutdown
  • Melky Cabrera possibly winning the NL batting title
  • The Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout MVP conversation
  • The NFL bounty scandal
  • NBC's tape-delayed Olympics
Eh, we'll all forget about this by Tuesday, and U.S. golf will be just fine.