Archive for the 'Sports' Category

An even better use for a humidor than defying U.S. trade sanctions!

Been watching the Colorado Rockies rise out of the Slough of Despond and 70-80 Win Seasons for no readily apparent reason and put on an increasingly convincing performance as the Team of Destiny du jour (though it’s still not completely convincing, kind of like movies with Uma Thurman where you have to mentally insert your own idea of a beautiful woman to understand the effect she’s supposed to have on people). Aside from the fact that my current interest seems sort of guiltily bandwagonish, even though my family bought season tickets when they first started playing in 1993, since I, like I’d say about 95% of the rest of the state of Colorado lost interest in them about five years ago, and that I find it interesting that despite having swept two playoff series only one of the baseball writers on ESPN.com predicts that they’ll win more than two games against the Red Sox (which incidentally is about the same as what was predicted for them in those last two playoff series), I think one of the most interesting elements of this whole resurgence is that it seems that one of the most secretly, unexpectedly powerful forces in turning around an entire franchise seems to have been…the baseball humidor!

I remember when they first installed that four or five years ago it was fairly widely believed even in Colorado that a major league team could never be successful there because it was impossible to pitch well consistently at such altitude. And the humidor was roundly ridiculed not only as a last-resort, pathetic, cheapskate solution to the pitching problem but also for the implication on the part of the Rockies that all their lack of success and mismanagement could be attributed to the density of the baseballs. Now, half a decade later, their pitching has been, especially in the postseason, at the least very good, if not spectacular, and they’re at least a playoff series beyond what many people thought they would ever be capable of. And yet, as an example of gaining a competitive advantage through technology (or at least negating a fairly serious disadvantage), it’s gotten about 1/1000 the attention that the Patriots’ filming opposing teams’ defensive signals has, despite the evidence over the last few weeks that suggests that the actual difference those two things have made for their teams that is probably closer to the other way around. Interesting.

Random thought of the day

Tight ends from the University of Colorado seem to be disproportionately represented on NFL rosters. Currently, former Colorado tight ends Tom Ashworth, Christian Fauria, Daniel Graham, Joe Klopfenstein, Matt Lepsis Note that Ashworth and Lepsis play offensive tackle in the NFL. and Quinn Sypniewski play in the NFL. While none is a star, Slight qualification: though he’s no Walter Jones, Lepsis is one of the better left tackles in the league. If offensive linemen had the same visibility as quarterbacks or running backs, he would arguably be a quasi-star of the likes of a Marc Bulger or Rudi Johnson. they’ve all (aside from Klopfenstein and Sypniewski, who are rookies) had solid NFL careers. In other words (giving Klopfenstein and Sypniewski the benefit of the doubt), for most of the last 15 years Colorado has lined up a future productive NFL player at tight end. If the trend holds, watch out for Riar Geer in an NFL uniform in a few years.

Given that he was around for at least part of all six players’ college days (and presumably involved in the recruitment of all but Fauria), it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that former Colorado tight ends coach Jon Embree (himself a former Colorado tight end who played in the NFL), is currently plying his trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Coincidentally or not, Tony Gonzalez seems to be enjoying a mini-renaissance of late.

postscript to Dwyanu Wadibili

In the latest in its series of defending the indefensible. Slate magazine now tries to defend flopping itself. The premise seems to be that, without a little over-dramatization of fowls, we’d be stuck in the doldrums of the NBA or NHL circa 1996. But the NBA is a good example of why this is a huge over-simplification. The NBA (and, more recently, the NHL) made the game more exciting to watch by enforcing the penalties on the books and creating new rules to discourage defensive interference, not by letting offensive players invent their own fouls.

The main problem with diving is not that it’s dishonest, weaselly behavior, although it is. The main issue is that it completely disrupts the rhythm of play if players collapse when they have control of the ball and aren’t touched hard enough to actually bring them down. The author basically admits this by saying, “There is nothing more depressing than a player who goes to the ground when he might have scored.” But he gets around this by sort of redefining the term “diving,” confining himself to defending flops where there is legitimate contact sufficient to bring a player down but the ref won’t call a foul unless the foulee rolls around on the ground in apparent agony. I have nothing to say about those instances, except to say that if the officiating is that bad, maybe FIFA should think about, I don’t know, assigning more than one ref per game. Hey, it’s a big field, after all. So maybe FIFA and the NBA should actually enforce the rules they already have and stick to them, instead of letting players on the field decide when they want to be fouled. Maybe they should throw in a tough rule against diving too, like in the NHL. Then they’d have the best of both worlds, and as a side benefit, basketball stars might stop seeming so damn manufactured.

p.s. I admit that the disrupts-play argument applies less to the NBA, where the good floppers like Wade and Ginobili usually get “fouled” somewhere in the process of shooting and follow through their shots, but it still slows the game down a bit, and if less-skilled players start doing this I could see whole games degenerating into a succession of bricks and foul shots. Plus, it makes me hate whoever is doing it. The author also tries to criticize this visceral dislike of that sort of behavior by implying that everyone sharing this feeling is a chauvinistic racist, which is one of the most infuriating (and, unfortunately, increasingly popular) ad hominem argument strategies out there.  And anyway, hockey players are sort of the model of stoic toughness, and most of them (until recently, anyway) are French Canadians, for God’s sake.  If this were really just a construction of American nationalism, do you really think they would be the ones fit into that mould?

More hate

[Note: I composed the substance of this post while laying in bed this morning with a pillow over my face, but didn't have a chance to write it down until now. I find it interesting that, in the intervening time, Curt came to essentially the same conclusion about Dwyane Wade, even if he did misspell his name]

On the plus side (upside, perhaps, in honor of everybody’s favorite spineless color man?), at least the NBA’s officials for Game 6 maintained consistency in calling fouls against the Mavericks for swiping at the ball in Dwyane Wade’s hands and completely missing everything, for standing there when Wade threw his body into someone and flipped the ball over his head, and for getting in the way of Wade’s forearm. On the down side…well, isn’t the downside pretty obvious? (And that doesn’t even get into the fact that both games 5 and 6 essentially ended on phantom foul calls; whatever happened to letting the players decide the game?)

The really sad thing about this whole debacle is that it’s made me start hating Dwyane Wade, one of the most likable players in the league. Intellectually I know that he’d be stupid not to flop, drive recklessly and throw his body into the defender if he’s going to get calls, but the less abstract layers of my brain see that and think about how much I’d want to punch the guy if he ever tried that stuff in a pickup game in which I was involved.

Of course, a good deal of the blame for my wanting to see Wade fail falls at the feet of Heat coach/GM Pat Riley for surrounding him with the likes of the smugly mercenary Antoine Walker and the utterly despicable Alonzo Mourning. Incidentally, when did the league decide that ‘Zo was free to throw his body indiscriminately into shooters so long as he makes a clean block up top? Has this always been the case? Despite the fact that there are at least four players on the Heat I like (Wade, Haslem, Shaq and Posey), I could never find it in myself to root for a team that prominently features Walker, Mourning and, of course, Riley himself, the man who almost singlehandedly destroyed professional basketball for an entire decade.

But, tempting as it is to blame Riley, the presence of he, Walker and Mourning only made me want to see Wade’s team lose; it took truly gutless officiating to make me hate Wade the individual. Which is pretty impressive, given that the whole scenario had me empathizing with Dirk Nowitzki, who isn’t exactly unaccomplished when it comes to flopping.

Dwyanu Wadibili

You can read a totally unconvincing argument that the officials didn’t throw the NBA championship to the Miami Heat here. The argument seems to basically be that if the Mavericks were championship-worthy they would have overcome horrible officiating. I’m not saying that Dallas was exactly world-beating, but come on. That’s like arguing that corruption in close elections is irrelevant because if the losing candidate were really worthy of victory they would have been popular enough to overcome it. Does that make Robert Mugabe a legitimate president? Miami won exactly one game against the Mavericks by more than three points. In Game 5 Dwyane Wade shot more free throws than the entire Mavericks team, and at least five or six of the fouls were complete bullshit. In Game 6 I saw Wade pull up for jumpers on three separate occaisons in the first half alone and collapse to the ground despite no Mav being within in three feet of him, and each time he got a call. I was too disgusted to even watch the second half (and probably any NBA game from now on), but it sounded like it was just as bad. You’re telling me that at least three completely made-up calls like that, resulting in a chance for six free points, in a game decided by three points, was not most likely decisive? And since the same applied to Game 5 and to a lesser extent Game 3, doesn’t that swing the series?

It’s not an open-and-shut case, because no one knows if the Mavericks would have played the same way had the Heat and Wade especially not gotten so many calls (and, to be fair, there were a few questionable calls in favor of the Mavs). Maybe they would have found some other way to lose. But the outcome is so tainted I don’t see how anyone could rest contented that they saw a series decided on its merits. And the refs did the same thing in the finals last year, except then they were only angling to make the series go seven games, whereas this year they were apparently bent on proving Mark Cuban right when he said (if he said) that the league is rigged. And I’m pretty dubious that the league will ever allow a team owned by him to win a championhip. Probably the worst thing about the whole series was seeing what happened to Wade. I used to think he was a really likeable player, because in addition to being extremely good he gets fouled and thrown around a lot and never whines to the refs (then again, why would he ever need to?). I don’t what happened to him before Game 6, but after last night, he’s become Ginobili, he’s become the Italian national soccer team, he’s become a damn flopper. So if that’s the NBA’s new Jordan, count me out.

p.s.  In short, the best way to state my point is this: the Mavericks didn’t play well enough to win the game as it was conducted; that’s pretty much redundant.  But since they scored more legitimate points in all but one of the games, that should be enough to win.

Inferiority complex time

It’s an interesting time to a member of the Fairview High School class of ’99 right now. Actually, to be more precise, it’s an interesting time to be a member of the aforementioned class who also played baseball in high school. Two of my former teammates have been making headlines recently; one is in the final 12 of American Idol (haven’t watched the show myself, but apparently he’s a little grating, which, admittedly, isn’t a total surprise), while the other was just eliminated from the World Baseball Classic (playing for Canada, oddly enough, even though he’s also played for Team USA).

This, needless to say, is one of the reasons high school reunions are bad news.

They may have lost the game…

…but this must have set some kind of record:

What an average!

“The hooligans are loose”

The author of this article seems to badly misinterpret Americans’ quasi-obsession with “soccer hooligans”. In order to set the record straight, here are the real reasons we cultural troglodytes like to make snide comments about the hooligans:

  1. “Hooligan” is a very silly word. Not quite as silly, perhaps, as “rapscallion” or “scalawag”, but still pretty damn silly. As the late, lamented Bill Hicks once pointed out, “hooligan” evokes nothing so much as a pasty, stringy-haired guy in an Eton jacket and penny loafers without socks mincing around, knocking over dustbins in Shaftsbury and lightly smacking people in the back of the head and then running away. Which all makes it pretty amusing to talk about “soccer hooligans” in hushed, almost reverent tones.

  2. Cognitive dissonance. This requires a slightly longer explanation. The author of the Guardian article goes on and on about violence at football games (well, actually, mostly just semi-apocryphal violent acts at Eagles games, but that’s another story), but let’s face it: football is a very violent sport. The entire premise of the game is the following: find 22 of the biggest, fastest, strongest men you can. Suit each of them up in 15 pounds of battle armor. Put them all on the same field while instructing half of them that their entire objective is to hit a (typically smaller) opponent absolutely as hard as possible 60 or 70 times over the course of the next three hours. Honestly, it would be pretty surprising if the spectators didn’t engage in the occasional fistfight (the Guardian also mentions hockey, which is perhaps the only sport on the planet whose ostensible objective isn’t fighting in which the officials will courteously stop play and stand around watching whenever two of the participants decide to exchange punches; in other words, it might be even more violent than football). The premise of soccer, on the other hand, is to put a bunch of skinny, long-haired guys on the same field to prance around and react like a gazelle on the receiving end of a double load of buckshot whenever the opposition approaches within 2 feet. Which makes the notion of lunatic violence among the spectators roughly as absurd, contextually, as a riot at a John Tesh concert or the realism of West Side Story. → On a probably unrelated note, I’ve often thought that a hip-hop remake of West Side Story would be either brilliant or hilarious. Either way, I think it needs to happen The point is that those of us on this side of the Atlantic aren’t so much gleefully appalled by soccer violence (as the Guardian seems to suggest) as puzzled by the quaintness of it all. Put it this way: the phrase “rugby hooligan” would never penetrate the American lexicon (which is, admittedly, ironic, since rugby is, relative to soccer, an aristocratic pursuit).

  3. Internationalization. Violent as American sports fans may or may not be, they are not known for taking their act abroad (in part because we don’t care about non-American sports, but still). On the other hand, the British government routinely takes away the passports of notorious hooligans whenever the World Cup or other big international tournaments roll around in a desperate (and, inevitably, unsuccessful) attempt to prevent rampaging, drunken Englishmen from descending on whatever unfortunate town has to host an England game. On the plus side, host cities seem to be getting smarter: recently they’ve been resorting to semi-radical tactics to get the English to chill out.

  4. Smug Europeans. This is, of course, the clichéd answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Europeans love to pretend that violence and racism are uniquely American problems that they’ve transcended with their enlightened social policies. When examples arise to demonstrate that this is the purest schadenfreude (seriously: swastika flags?), it’s hard to restrain from pointing them out. Admittedly, Turkish soccer violence is almost certainly worse than the British variety, but it’s easy to see why we pick on the Brits: (a) The Brits take their show on the road better than anyone (see 3. above); (b) Britain is, at this stage in history, the cultural armpit of Europe, which means that British smugness is especially grating.

Hope that clears everything up.

Couldn’t have said it better myself

From a Colby Cosh post entitled “The heights and depths of ESPN.com”:

Is there another site in the universe, I ask you, that delivers such greatness and such appalling awfulness in equal measure? You never do know what you’ll get when you click on an ESPN link–it might be the last depraved rantings of some exquisite genius like Hunter S. Thompson, or the most ghastly flatus imaginable from some podunk beat writer.

Random outrage of the night

Goddamn retarded fucking Los Angeles “baseball fans”. Morons. Anybody who hurts his team’s chances of winning by reaching onto the field to grab a ball in play doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near a playoff baseball game.

Backstory for those that weren’t watching the game tonight: I’m sitting here working on some differential geometry and watching tonight’s Angels-White Sox game when Chone Figgins hits a long fly into the rightfield corner on a hit-and-run with Adam Kennedy on first base. Since Kennedy was running on the play, he’s going to score easily and, given Figgins’ speed, there’s a good chance Figgins will end up with a triple. Except an idiot Angels fan reaches into the field of play to grab the ball on one bounce below the level of the fence. So, rather than a run-scoring triple, it’s a ground rule double. Now, the stupidity of this is just staggering. The Angels were down 3-1 in the series and 2-1 in the game and yet this fan grabs a ball in play and potentially costs his team an important run in this critical game. The only good thing you can say about the guy is that he didn’t spill his beer in the process.

Fortunately for the Angels, the umpires correctly ruled fan interference and gave Kennedy a free pass to home plate. So the only repercussion for the Angels was that Figgins was stuck at second, which ended up not mattering since he scored two batters later anyway.

But the particular fan’s idiocy is somehow emblematic of Angels fans generally, with their idiotic Thunder Stix, their disturbing idolatry of the Rally Monkey and their incapacity to get excited unless the scoreboard tells them to, at which point they just go berserk. Point being, the average Angels fan seems to have no idea what the proceedings on the field mean, other than that when a guy in red hits it over the fence, that’s a good thing. Contrast with, e.g., Cardinals fans.

Although I’m partial to the White Sox, given that my father has been a White Sox fan since birth, I’d been taking pity on the Angels and their fans this ALCS since they’ve been getting jobbed by the umpires practically every step of the way (which doesn’t excuse their third-string catcher from being an idiot, but still). No more. I can’t sympathize with “fans” that don’t know that preventing their team from scoring is probably a bad idea. White Sox fans, I’m now firmly entrenched on your side (unless the Pale Hose face the Cardinals in the Series, which is starting to look pretty unlikely).