Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Post That Will Make American Soccer Fans Mad

Friends of mine in Paris, one of whom is an officially certified soccer aficionado, have decided that they are all in on the USMNT. They're impressed with the level of teamwork and hard work, and think the Yanks have a genuine chance against Belgium.

Which, I must admit, is pretty cool. And it's also cool that the US managed to escape from THE GROUP OF DEATH (add reverb as needed) and reach the knockout round, which, I'm told, comes before the round where they dump green slime on you and then the round with the showcase showdown. I have nothing but admiration for the way in which a team that was told point-blank it was outmanned and outgunned took care of business, and it's nice to see them finally break whatever hex Ghana has cast over them for the last few World Cups.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Feeling a Draft

Going into yesterday's draft the Sixers had 7 picks, including the #3 and #10 selections in the first round. They'd been deliberately terrible this past season, to the point where one of their 2 first-round picks in the last draft spent the entire year out with an injury he'd suffered /before/ the draft, in order to get a high pick in this year's loaded offering so they could get good this year. And with all that in place, they picked:
  • Injured guy with high ceiling who's going to be out all year
  • Croatian guy with high ceiling who's going to be playing in Turkey for the next N years, where 1 < n < 3
  • Crazy athletic guy from Clemson who can't shoot
  • Crazy athletic guy from Syracuse who can't shoot
  • Two Serbian dudes (one of whom has crazy athleticism) who - stop me if you've heard this - can't shoot.
  • And a wing player from Tennessee who can't shoot.

Now, I love Sixers GM Sam Hinkie. I think he has giant swinging cojones of brass so mighty they have orbiting moons. He is going full-on Houston Astros here, tearing a mediocre franchise down to the concrete slab in order to build something with long-term potential. 

So I can applaud picking Joel Embiid at #3. If he's healthy - and that's the big if - he's probably the best player in the draft, and potentially a superstar. Alternately, he's Sam Bowie, but if the alternative is permanent mediocrity, might as well swing for the fences (and annoy the hell out of the pundits while you're at it). 

But man, this is a big leap of faith - for the fans,for ownership, and for the few building blocks like Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel who are already in place. To keep all of those parties on board and committed through another year of trainwreck while waiting for the cavalry to arrive en masse, it's going to be work.

And maybe next year they'll draft immediate help, and Embiid will be healthy and ready to contribute, and Saric will get out of his contract in Turkey, and Dangubic and Micic will show up, too. Maybe some of those non-shooters will learn how to shoot. It's a nice dream to hang onto, and at this point, that's all drafts are - dreams.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Things We Know, NBA Draft Edition

Here is what we know about the NBA draft:

  1. The Cleveland Cavaliers are definitely taking Jabari Parker first overall, because they want to lure LeBron James back to Cleveland and they whiffed on last year's #1, so they're going for the "sure thing".

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The FIFA World Cup Blog Post, Sponsored By the FIFA World Cup (Not Actually Sponsored By FIFA)

This may or may not be FIFA HQ
Is anyone else creeped out by the robotic mention of the World Cup as "the 2014 FIFA World Cup" by all the announcers, commercials by official sponsors, etc? I mean, yes, FIFA puts it on (and as John Oliver notes, absorbs money like Galactus chowing down on a habitable planet in the process), and yes, it is technically the FIFA World Cup, but the creepy Heisenbergian insistence on saying FIFA's name every time it gets mentioned is starting to wig me out. Imagine if the announcers had to say "The NFL Super Bowl" or "The MLB World Series" or "the PGA's Masters Where We're All Just Kind of Hoping Tiger Finally Gets Off The Schneid One Of These Days".

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book Review - Stars and Strikes

For the readers out there, my review of Dan Epstein's rollicking tome of baseball in 1976 - complete with Joe Torre sucker-punching Lynn McGlothen, bat-throwing, bird-flipping, shorts-wearing, brawling and a million other memories from the good ol' days - is now live over at Sleeping Hedgehog

Check out the review. Then check out the book. It's a good 'un. 

Great Moments In Radio Tags, NBA Draft Division

"The NBA Draft is on Thursday. Every discussion could make or break your team."

Err, no. The thing the discussions are about, like if the Sixers should decide to trade all their picks for Kevin Love, who promptly has a myocardial infarction while eating his first cheesesteak at Jim's and is out for the year, after which he leaves in free agency? That could make or break the team. The discussions on ESPN? Not so much.

But thanks for asking.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

LeBron's Decision Is Wrong (Whatever It Is)

Here is the one thing we know for certain about LeBron James' next move: it will be savaged.

  • If he elects to stay in Miami and gun for another championship, he'll be pilloried for staying with a past-its-prime core and taking the easy way out.
  • If he elects to opt out, stay in Miami for less money in order to facilitate the acquisition of more talent so that he can take another run or three at a championship, he's buying his rings and how dare the players manipulate the system to have a better chance to win.
  • If he opts out of his contract, as is his right (see, it's right there in the contract) and goes to LA, then he's just a publicity hound.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Great Moments In Sports Talk Radio: Playbookgateghazi

Last night, on the Sedano and Stink show on ESPN radio, co-host Jorge Sedano asked a question: Why do we make such a big deal out of this stuff?

The stuff he was referring to was NFL-related, namely the "revelation" from new Browns coach and former Jets assistant Mike Pettine that his former boss, Jets coach and professional loose cannon Rex Ryan, had put his team at a disadvantage by handing a copy of the defensive playbook to Alabama coach Nick Saban. Saban, according to the narrative, then turned around and gave the book to his good buddy, Wesleyan alum Bill Belichick, which led to Patriots QB Tom Brady good-naturedly taunting Jets folk at Wes Welker's wedding that he had access to the Jets' playbook. Pettine told this story to make himself look good, Ryan responded by saying that Pettine's a self-serving jackass, and the whole thing has simmered along nicely as a cross between a telenovela and two third graders having a recess slap fight.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tony Gwynn, RIP

Right about now, you're probably reading a lot about the late Tony Gwynn.

You're reading personal reminiscences of what it was like to talk with Mr. Gwynn, who by all accounts was an exceedingly kind gentleman who was always generous with his time. You're reading machine-gun fire bursts of stats - .344 career BA with the bases loaded, never struck out against Greg Maddux, 15 All Star teams - to demonstrate his greatness, because ever first-ballot Hall of Famers who get 97.5% of the vote going in get second guessed in this day and age. You're hearing how Gwynn basically invented the use of video to help hitters analyze their swings. You're getting links to clips of him talking with Ted Williams.

None of which you will get here.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Springer Spranger Sproinger

Earlier this year, the Houston Astros were pilloried for keeping uber-talented uber-prospect George Springer down in AAA while their outfield was patrolled by a bunch of guys the Toledo Mud Hens had said. "enh, no thanks" to. This was, of course, in order to manipulate Springer's service time past the fuzzy "super two" deadline, making sure that the team got an extra season of control before he could head off into free agency. For all the team's floppy denials, it was pretty obvious that they were willing to let their major league outfield rot in order to ensure that Springer, once up, would be patrolling it for as long as possible, to the point where it looked like they tried to leverage the kid with a "sign this contract that buys out some of your arbitration/free agency years or you're going to stay in the minors with your little dog too" deal

Springer didn't sign, as the contract was a bad deal for him. He stayed in the minors. And the commentators howled.

Friday, June 13, 2014

They Put A What Where?

Via Screamer, there's word that the pitch at the World Cup stadium in Manaus, Brazil, is in bad shape ahead of Saturday's first game.

Which, of course, once again raises the question "They put a World Cup stadium in Manaus?"

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reasons To Hate Every Team In The World Cup

Generally, it's easy to figure out who to root for in the World Cup (Note: all right-thinking humans should be rooting for a meteor to hit Sepp Blatter). You default to the country you're from if they're playing, and if they're not, you either go for cool jerseys or someone your native land hasn't been at war with too recently. Alternately, if you're a wacky hipster type intent on letting the world know you know SO much about soccer despite  being American and it being one of those weird "sportsball" things, you pick Ecuador or Belgium. (Alternately-alternately, if you're a front-runner, you pick Brazil or Spain, and everyone who knows you secretly thinks you're a jerk.)

Harder, however, is figuring out which team to hate. There are 32, after all, and at least one of them's got to play the heel. Whether it's through blatant match fixing, blatant jerkwad play on the pitch, or just having weird nicknames, there's always a team that will set someone off. Here, then is a way to make up your mind - a list of reasons to hate every team in the Cup.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Balls of Brass Bonanza

As per Field of Schemes, the city of Hartford, Connecticut (or at least its mayor) is prepping to spend something like $60M to lure a AA minor league baseball team to town. So far, so meh, right? I mean, Hartford couldn't hang on to the Whalers, but that was a long time ago, and besides, the Hartford Civic Center was a slightly worse place to see a hockey game than the Wesleyan student gym (trust me, I've been to both, and only one had a faint residual smell of elephant), but hey, a minor league baseball team? Why the heck not?

Well, the big reason is that the team they're going after currently resides in the far-away land of New Britain, Connecticut.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Philling Out

This is why the New York Knicks can't have nice things.

Which is not to say having Derek Fisher as your coach isn't a nice thing. We honestly have no idea if having Derek Fisher as your coach is a nice thing or not, because Derek Fisher has never been a coach before, just the same what Phil Jackson has never been a front office executive and grand poobah before. It is entirely possible that either or both of those moves could work out fabulously. 

Sunday, June 08, 2014

If Supervillains Owned Sports Teams...

Over at Sports On Earth, the estimable Mike Tanier did a piece this week on what would happen if various superheroes (and Richie Rich, the miserable little son of a gun) were somehow motivated to purchase sports teams. Tanier, whose writing on the NFL has a rare combination of wit, grace and insight, clearly knows and loves comics, and he managed to work a Fin Fang Foom reference into the article, so, nothing to complain about here.


Let’s think for a minute about what we know about sports owners. Do guys like Zygi Wilf really qualify as superheroes, or are they on the opposite side of that equation? Is sticking a city on the hook for $2B for a new stadium the work of a selfless hero, or a masterful manipulator? In short, aren’t an awful lot of team owners really much more like supervillains? And if that’s the case, which villains would potentially invest in sports teams?

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Conscious Uncoupling of the Five Rings

In the end, the thing escaped Game of Thrones character Vladimir Putin might be best remembered for is killing the Winter Olympics. In the wake of the Sochi games, which cost a staggering $51B dollars to put on, competitors for for future hosting opportunities are looking at the bottom line and saying "ennnh, maybe we'll make a run at the World Cup of Roller Derby instead." And without a steady line of sites lined up to wine, dine, and *cough cough line the pockets of cough cough Salt Lake City cough cough* work with the IOC, the Winter Olympics could run out of places to play sooner rather than later.

(Alternately, climate change could take care of that, too - the last few games have featured embarrassing shortages of things like "snow".)

Friday, June 06, 2014

Draft Night For Baseball

I'm not normally a draftnik kind of guy. I think the fact that Mel Kiper Jr. has made a career out of being a "draft guru" is a sign that our civilization is doomed. I think middle-aged men making a bunch of athletic 22 year olds stand around in their skivvies while their measurables get read out is deeply creepy. I think the fact that we have turned roll calls and glorified bingo (in the case of the NBA lottery) into television "events" is a sad, sad thing, especially in a world where your average Community episode had more crew members than viewers.

That being said, I watched a good chunk of the MLB first year player draft tonight. The telecast was largely crisp, the analysis of the players was largely free of Harold Reynolds, and the pace was good - four minutes or so between first round picks, one minute per pick thereafter. Once the first round ended and Bud Selig stepped away from the mike, teams started sending up former players to announce their picks, leading to some great intentional comedy - cue the mighty Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs - and some great unintentional comedy as well. 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Because I Want Soccer Fans To Hate Me

My rooting interests in the World Cup are a lot like my rooting interests in the NCAA tournament, whereby family rooting interests aside (my 11 year old nephew is a stone Duke fan, and so it is unseemly for Uncle Rich to be doing cartwheels when Mercer knocks them off), I root for the weird schools. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Days of Future Passed Balls

"Caught with the help of Mikael Franco"
One of the great things about watching minor league baseball is that it sometimes gives you a glimpse of the future. You get to see rising stars perfect their craft up close and personal. Over the years, going to Durham Bulls and Carolina Mudcats games has offered looks at David Price, Will Myers, Desmond Jennings, Francisco Lindor, Yonder Alonso, BJ Upton and many more.

One of the terrible things about minor league baseball is that it sometimes gives you a glimpse of the future, and the future looks like the Sentinel-infested hellscape of the latest X-Men movie.