Thursday, March 29, 2007

And Johnny Cash Won't Come To Sing To Him

Former Marlins, Expos, Phillies, and probably Schaumburg Flyers reliever Ugueth Urbina was convicted in the case of the attempted murder of 5 workers on his family plantation in Venezuela. Urbina's steadfast defense throughout the whole trial is that he wasn't involved because he was in slumberland at the time, which A)redefines the term "deep fantasy sleeper" and B)failed to convince the jury in the slightest. Pending the appeals process, he'll be serving 14 years, which means he'll still be 2 years younger than Julio Franco is now when he gets out, and thus be likely to sign with the Mets.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Out With the Old, In With the Polish Rifle

So Theismann's gone and Jaworski is in for Monday Night Football. This is, I think, an improvement for several reasons:
  • Jaworski speaks in complete sentences
  • He's widely recognized as being among the best analysts out there (if not the best) when it comes to breaking down what's going on and communicating it to viewers who aren't part of Bill Belichick's extended family
  • He doesn't visibly loathe Tony Kornheiser, which may or may not be a character flaw but which will make it easier for him to work with the man
  • His tiny little glasses, which make him look oddly non-threatening for a man who spent years working in South Philadelphia.
Overall, I expect the quality of the broadcasts to improve, particularly since the math will likely look like this: More Jaworski, Less Kornheiser, No Theismann. There will still be squawking - there will always be squawking, unless the zombified corpse of Howard Cosell rises from the grave and chomps through Tony's pate on-air - about how it's not what it used to be, but I think it will be better than it has been in a long while.

MNF's problem, ultimately, is that the glory years with Cosell made it into more than a show. It was simultaneously a sporting event and a social phenomenon, because, God knows, the games themselves were rarely worth watching. It survived on spectacle for a while, but the momentum from that has run out, and now it has its own ghosts to live up to. It hasn't done that too successfully of late. The games have still too often been blowouts, the announcers unsteady and arrhythmic.

But steps are being taken in the right direction, I think. It won't be what it was. This isn't 1977; it can't be. But with Jaws on board and the ability to at least try to schedule better games on the fly, it can at least be good.

And if not, well, Randall Cunningham can come into the booth on third and long.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Quick Hits

  • Every year there's howling, but this year's NCAA tournament has featured the worst officiating I've seen in a long time. There have been more bad calls deciding the outcome of games than in any year I can remember. One wonders when precisely the NCAA hired Don Denkinger, and if they feel they're getting their money's worth.
  • The next announcement from Pete Rose: "At least I didn't bet on cricket." On one hand, it now seems safe to assume that Rose has lost any and all credibility with anyone but the crowd that believes that O.J. is really out there looking for Nicole's killer. As noted elsewhere, the man can't even confess without lying (according to the Dowd Report, Rose did not bet on the Reds every day - he steadfastly refused when his #4 and #5 starters were going). On the other hand, the fact that the coach of Pakistan's national cricket team was murdered after an unexpected loss to lightweights Ireland raises all sorts of disturbing notions that the American sports media is busily ignoring. The long-running accusations of corruption in the sport have been given new life, with the tentacles of corruption apparently reaching to the highest level of the sport. And, lest we forget, a man is dead, violently murdered in his hotel room. It makes the latest kerfuffle between, say, Kerry Wood and Lou Pinella seem rather petty, doesn't it?
  • As much as I love Baseball Prospectus, Steven Goldman's "Hope and Faith" piece on the Phillies (and his subsequent interview on BP Radio) was about as hopeless a riff as one could imagine. Come on, Steve - they haven't even started blowing games yet.
  • I'm looking forward to seeing Greg Oden trying that chest shove on someone a little older and more savvy than he is next year. Say, Shaq. That could get verrrry interesting. Or, he could take a page out of Kobe's book and just go after guys whom Klaus Nomi could have taken in a fair fight.
  • Tampa Bay has too many outfielders, most of whom can play center, and no starting pitching. Florida has no centerfielder, and a positive bounty of starting-quality pitchers. At what point do we have to have an intervention so these two will start talking to one another?
  • Speaking of Tampa Bay, the Phillies originally got Bobby Abreu from them for Kevin Stocker. Pat Gillick traded Abreu last year for guys who, at this point, make Stocker look good. One can only assume that Brian Cashman will eventually flip him for some balls, a couple of nice clean uniforms, and 33 pounds of meat.
  • What are the odds the Milwaukee Admirals experience a sudden upswing in merchandise sales on May 25th?
  • The longer the Mets keep Lastings Milledge on the bench or in AAA, the happier the rest of the NL East will be.
  • Did the rumor that had Aaron Rowand going back to the White Sox ever make any sense to anyone? One can only assume that eventually, the rumor mill is going to have Jim Thome traded back to Philly.
  • Over-under on the first incapacitating injury for Nomar this year is May 2nd. I'll take the under. The longer the Dodgers keep their kids in AAA en masse, the happier the NL West will be. Even Colorado.
  • God help us all when Chris Berman comes up with a nickname for Troy Tulowitzki.
  • If the Dodgers do get off to a slow start, do you think Bill Plaschke will find a way to blame Paul DePodesta?
  • The moment I'm waiting for most this season: The first time Dice-K whiffs Alex Rodriguez. The sheer volume of calls to Mike & the Mad Dog may in fact bring down the entire New York phone system.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Spring Trading

Jayson Stark makes a good point over at in that the spring training trading market is often over-hyped and under-realized. This is due in large part to the fact that nobody really knows what they have yet, as well as the fact that many reporters have bar bills that they are running expense accounts on (thank you, Mike Shropshire). I also suspect there's a fair bit of "let's see what the other guy is getting for his overpriced former closer before we make a deal", because nobody wants to make a Brock-for-Broglio deal, even when the potential Brock is actually Jorge Julio.

The injury reports are finally starting to mount, though this has been a relatively light year as far as medical catastrophes go. Kerry Wood and Mark Prior aren't ready, and General Franco is still dead. Joe Mauer busted up his leg, but may be back for Opening Day. Really, it's only been a bad spring health-wise if you're a Cleveland pitcher.

My expectation is that the first time a team that's supposed to contend blows a couple of saves in a row, there's going to be a sudden, savage burst of overpaying for relief help, and then you'll see the Benitezes, Julios, and Cormiers of the world flying everywhere. One guy I don't think will be going anywhere is Scott Linebrink, despite all of the rumors. Yes, I know that Trevor Hoffman is actually Gandalf and will never die, but one of these years he's going to cross the line between "changeup" and "batting practice fastball", and the fall will be swift and ugly. I'm not saying his spring training was an indicator that this will be the year, but, to quote Joaquin Andujar, "youneverknow".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Maybe Having Six Starting Pitchers Isn't Such A Bad Thing...

...if the really expensive one you traded for goes down before Opening Day.

Ironic, though, that Jon Lieber - a man whose conditioning habits can best be described as "similar to those of the author of this post" - is in one piece when Freddy Garcia isn't.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

And then there were 16

Number of mid-majors in the Sweet 16: 4
Number of ACC teams in the Sweet 16: 1

Not that this is going to be remembered by anyone except Kyle Whelliston, mind you, but it does demonstrate that the gap between the "majors" and the "mid-majors" has closed even more significantly than previously reported. And, if Xavier takes care of business (or gets a particular call against Darryl Dawkins, err, Greg Oden), then we're looking at 5 mid-majors and no Big 10.

Think about that for a minute. It's OK. I'll wait.

Other thoughts:
Tennessee before Bruce Pearl generally attempted to handle the ball in the Tournament with both hands wrapped firmly around their collective windpipe. With Pearl in place, not so much. The man may be a showboating, carpetbagging snitch (or so some folks in the Midwest would tell you) but he's a lights-out coach, and Tennessee is going to be a trendy early Final Four pick for next year.

Vandy is in the Sweet 16, and Texas isn't. Go figure. USC is maybe the biggest surprise team so far, regardless of seeding. Most folks I talked to thought Texas was underseeded, and that they'd take the Trojans to the woodshed by halftime. Instead, it went entirely the opposite way, and a still-young UNC team needs to be very careful or they'll find themselves bounced - face mask or no face mask.

All that being said, I still think Georgetown is going to take Vandy apart like they're fried chicken at a tailgate party. Still, Sweet 16 is nothing to sneeze at.

Can Southern Illinois beat Kansas? Well, if Oral Roberts could... I don't think it's hugely likely, but I wouldn't be shocked if it happened. Well, not too shocked.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mindless Tournament Thoughts...

...because, let's face it, "Selection Sunday" sounds like a rejected title for a Shirley Jackson short story.

200 Wins Doesn't Buy What It Used To:
There were 104 teams that won 20+ games by the time all was said and done. There are 65 slots. You do the math. What this really means, of course, is that the good teams may be getting better, but the bad teams are really, really bad.

Next Time, We Won't Beat the #2 Seed:
Overheard at Missouri State and West Virginia.

Your Mandatory 12-5 Upset:
Long Beach State over Tennessee. Because there's always one, the coach at Long Beach is fighting for his job, and Tennessee is, well, Tennessee.

Your Mandatory "16 seed that scares the bejesus out of the 1 seed before getting clubbed like a baby seal":
Central Connecticut State, which has been red-hot and gets a bored Ohio State team. Besides, having spent four years in central Connecticut, I have to believe that those kids will do anything - anything - to avoid going back for as long as possible.

Team I Would Not Want To Be Right Now:
VCU. Nothing against the Rams, but who in their right mind would want to be standing there when Duke takes the floor without its accustomed #1 or #2. Or, to put it another way, the current crop of Blue Devils already have to take crap from Christian Laettner. They're not going to want to take any more.
Elbows to the shnozz, however, are an entirely different matter.

It's Been That Kind of Year:
Figure #9 'Nova to take out #8 Kentucky. Tubby Smith has never lost in the first round of the tournament, but this year has been so thoroughly snakebitten for the 'cats that you have to figure this will go wrong, too. Besides, Villanova's spent the last three months being pointed to as everyone's "quality win". You have to figure they're a little tired of it.

Other Upset Alerts:
Winthrop over Notre Dame, Gonzaga over Indiana, Albany over Virginia, Creighton over Nevada. The last is kind of a cheapie, seeing as how one of Nevada's best players is potentially out after a mishap with a floor decal on the court, but I calls 'em like I sees 'em.

Easiest Path to the Final Four:
Kansas. With a bottom bracket full of underachievers, Duke in a down year, and the play-in game as essentially a bye, this is the year for Kansas to make some real noise. The toughest obstacle in their way may in fact be Southern Illinois, which certainly has the guns to get past both Holy Cross and Virginia Tech.

Toughest Path, #1 Seed Division:
UNC, despite the fact that they're opening an hour down the road from Chapel Hill. Both Marquette and Michigan State are dangerous second-round opponents, and Georgetown is waiting in the other half of the regional bracket. Texas, lurking at the #4, won't be fun, either, and the combination of Kevin Durant and Tyler Hansborough's busted mug could get very ugly for the Heels.

The Lesson of Appy State:
Never mind that with Donte Minter, the hot-hot-hot Mountaineers kicked butt up and down the heart of the Confederacy. Though there's a lot of talk that teams that lose name players during the season, whether to injury, academics or arrest, are re-considered based on their current configuration, there's really no consideration for teams that gain good players partway through the season. For this, UVa and Vandy, among others, are profoundly thankful.

Next Time, Try New Jersey:
The key factor in the 'cuse's getting squeezed out (pardon the pun) is the fact that every year, their non-conference road schedule looks a lot like Gil Meche's trophy case, which is to say, empty, if not nonexistent. This year, it finally caught up with them, as the selection committee noted that they basically didn't play a road game until league play started. Getting clipped by Drexel in their own building just sealed it.
Mind you, the lesson Jim Boeheim is liable to take away from this is "Don't schedule Drexel."

Big Name School Most Likely To Get Crushed:
Stanford. They're tanking (losers of 4 out of 5) and drew a dangerous Lousiville team that can make anyone look bad in a hurry.

Joke We're Going to Hear Way Too Much Of:
"TAMU-CC? I thought they were an investment firm."
Or something to that effect.

And Finally, The Fearless Predictions:
Final Four - Kansas, Georgetown, Florida, Texas A&M
Kansas over Florida, Georgetown over A&M
Kansas over Georgetown

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Orioles Just Sent One to Jeffrey Maier, Gratis

Thanks to the folks over at Deadspin for alerting us to the latest, um, show of support:

For the baseball fan who has everything in the here and now, how about a team-licensed urn for his ashes in the hereafter?
Yankees fans [It's a New York Times story, folks; don't fret, they make 'em for you Royals fans too - ed.], an aluminum urn with pinstripes, the interlocking NY logo, a place on top for a ball that you might have caught at the ballpark and a personalized name plate — all resting on a tiny home plate.
Which does not help dispel the notion that MLB's demographic is creeping toward the Bob Feller line. Hell, they're practically falling over themselves in favor of it:

...Clint Mytych, the president of Eternal Image, the supplier of the urns...said [MLB] had little resistance to the idea....“We sold baseball the deal over the phone and never met in person. All they saw were concept drawings.”
Wouldn't be surprised if they thought they were for cigarette butts, to tell you the truth. Although the price seems a bit steep:

Mytych said that fans cannot directly order the urns, so they are unlikely to be hoarded by ghouls looking to get them signed and sell them on eBay. [Comforting, that.] The $699 urns will go on sale opening day, a note of finality, of sorts, to start the season, and can be bought only from funeral homes. (Pet owners can order cat and dog urns from Mytych’s company.)
We assume the Fido-sized receptacles will fit clubhouse mascots, too, although that's just a guess. All morbidity aside, though, it's good to see fine American entrepreneurship alive and well in this increasingly outsourced economy of ours:

“We feel the creativity’s been bred out of the funeral industry,” [Mytych] said. “Some of the Big 3 [...there's a Big 3 of urn makers? Do they have Mafia-riddled pension funds too?] in the industry have been around since the 1880s, and they never tried a branded product.”
Which is a shame, as presumably one could look back and shake one's head over the squandered opportunities to get people planted into their very own Cincinnati Red Legs jars.

“If your uncle dies and he was a passionate Red Sox fan,” [Mytych] said, responding with a rhetorical question, “is it really more fitting to have him cremated and just put him in a regular urn, or one like this that supports his passion, makes the remembrance that much sweeter?”
Knowing more than several fans of this nature, it's best if comment remains withheld.

The Red Sox and the Yankees are in the first group of team urns, along with the Braves, the Cubs, the Tigers, the Dodgers, the Cardinals and the Phillies. [Again, the small-market teams get screwed.] Coffins for those who want to follow those teams into the great beyond will be on sale for the stretch run of the pennant races.

And that's really how it should be. Because, let's face it: if you Devil Ray your favorite uncle into Hell, he's gonna haunt you good.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Lesson # 342,493 in Why Sports Talk Radio Is Best Seen and Not Heard

Tonight on "The Pulse," Jamal Mashburn told Doug Gottlieb in all apparent seriousness that Kobe Bryant deserved to be the MVP of the NBA because he's been on championship teams.

In other words, he deserves to be the MVP this year because of what he did in conjunction with Shaq a few years ago. By that logic, they're clearing a space for Earl Cureton's plaque in Springfield.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Proud to Be Your Fifth-Column Fellow-Traveling Filthy-Commie-B*st*rd-Enabling Sports Blog

We in this humble corner of the blogosphere have been approved for silky smooth entry into China:

Eat that, Drudge! Of course, the approval is somewhat ambiguous. "Available?" What does that mean? Our URL is available for viewing? Our URL is available to be pickpocketed? Our URL is one of those turbo-skanks who'll tart herself out to the first compendium of half-baked NL fantasy projections that looks twice at her? Baby, we thought you had more class than that...

And then there's the question of content. How do we maintain availability? It's a savage, serious, cut-throat world out there, people, and we're just trying to get a leg up and over before we're turned on and rent to shreds. What's it gonna take? Wall-to-wall Beijing 2008 Olympiques coverage? A Ken Burns-worthy docu on that Mao Ying guy? Embedded ping-pong video ripped off from YouTube? Great reach brings great responsibility, after all; we'll have to make a concerted effort. O the pressure!

"Don't be evil," my eye; there's profit to be had. I need a headline for my front page. Something punchy...