Thursday, February 27, 2003

Mi Vida Loca

It isn't often that one of those teary-eyed sports documentaries moves me. Most of the time the damage to the athlete in question is self-inflicted and no amount of operatic drama on the tragic rise and fall would change it.

But I have to admit, the piece done by James Brown for HBO on Johnny Tapia which aired last night was not the standard fare of good athlete gone self-destructively bad.

While listening to his up and down saga which recently culminated with a cocaine-induced coma, I couldn't really get a grip on why Johnny Tapia was different from any number of other charismatic athletes who veered off the course of a successful career and on to a path toward tragedy.

Not until I heard the story of his mother getting raped, stabbed 22 times with scissors and a screwdriver and killed right before his eyes without ever getting a chance to say goodbye to her.

While he was spilling his guts to James Brown, holding back tears over his continued rage, over his battles with addiction, over the bipolar disorder that helps create and simultaneously destroy his angels and his monsters, I couldn't help but marvel at not only how much he's overcome in his life, but that he even has a life any more to overcome.

No doubt his wife Teresa's angelic demeanor is a great help. At one point Brown asked Tapia if he cared whether or not he lived or died and Tapia replied that while he loved boxing and he loved his family, he didn't mind dying if it quelled his inner pain. Brown, in a respectable fit of good interviewing, then turned to Teresa and asked her how that reality made her feel. I don't recall her exact quote but something along the lines of how she would sometimes stare at him for long moments of time trying to remember every detail of his face and his smile because she really couldn't be sure whether or not she'd ever see him again.

The best part about the piece is that the fact that Tapia eventually (after a 3 year drug suspension) became the WBO junior bantamweight champion is almost irrelevent to the human interest angle of the story. He could have been any individual with a terrible history and an unrelenting struggle to survive and it wouldn't have diminished the impact one iota.

I don't know when/if it will be rebroadcast by HBO but if you get a chance to see it, the time spent is well worth it. It isn't often that I'd feel sorry for a guy with a 125 page arrest record but I think in this case, he's one down and out athlete I'll be rooting for to make it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

No Vets In Hall

The redesigned Veterans Committee failed to elect anyone to the Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

There was alot said locally about Gil Hodges' chances. He collected over 100 RBI for seven consecutive years (1949-55)and hit 20 or more HR 11 straight seasons (1949-59)with 14 lifetime grand slams, 3rd highest ever. He hit the first home run in Mets history and was even the manager for the Amazin Mets of 1969. But other numbers diminished his chances: he had a .273 lifetime, didn't even crack the 2000 hit mark and never won an MVP award. By all accounts, a wonderful teammate and a true gentleman but sorry Gil, not a Hall of Famer. He came up 11 votes short.

Big news, Hideko Matsui's root canal and his one missed day of practice. "No problem," Matsui said through an interpreter. "Just one tooth. It didn't hurt as much as I thought." What I'm wondering is on a slow news day, is the Japanese mediagoing to start reporting on the size and substance of his stool samples?


I like Willis Reed just as much as the next guy but his statement in today's NY Post was just not temerarious enough. I understand even ex-athletes speak in clichés and spend too much time overstating the obvious, but this was too much:

"IF [the Knicks] had a great center, they'd be a playoff team,"

That's right Willis and as Stephen Wright once said: "You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

Reed went on to add that "a young Patrick Ewing" would ease the Knick woes. How young is Willis talking about? I'm not sure how much a 12 year old Patrick Ewing would help even the Knicks.

But you gotta hand it to him, you can't pull anything over on ole Willis, can you? I'm just wondering why he wouldn't want "a young Wilt Chamberlain" or "a young Lew Alcindor" instead. I mean Patrick never even won a World Championship. Geez, no wonder Willis is a senior vice president of player development and scouting for the Nets while I'm just a Labor Statistic.


Before the trading deadline, the Nets coach Byron Scott was asked if he would have traded Keith Van Horn for Sprewell.

"No, I don't like guys who are on their own time. Spree comes to practice when he wants to, comes to games when he wants to. He sets a bad example for other guys."

Sprewell said Scott's derogatory remarks last week came off as "immature."

Sprewell also said he may approach Scott and ask him if he really said them. The last time a coach got under Spree's skin, well...

Look for Scott's throat to be evading the large hands of Sprewell by hiding somewhere behind Kenyon Martin ample physique provided Kenyon's fiancee isn't having any "health issues" again and Kenyon can actually make it to the game tonight.

Prediction: Nets 97, Knicks 93.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

New York Minute

More Evidence of Howe laid back Artie is:

Right in the middle of yesterday's intrasquad game, there he was behind home plate, chatting it up with Sigourney Weaver while poor rookie Aaron Heilman was sweating it out, trying to get some pitches over the plate. John Franco presented Weaver with one of those hideous LSD-induced orange Spring Training jerseys with her name on it. Oddly enough, no one on the Mets seemed to think having her stand behind home plate in the middle of a game was distracting. I can't help but wonder what kind of distraction it would have been if Anna Kournikova instead of Sigourney Weaver had been standing behind home plate.

The good news yesterday was that the Mets took the intrasquad game in a convincing 6-4 victory.

While I'm happy that Jeremy Burnitz slammed the Mets' first competitive homer of the spring in the second inning yesterday, I can't help but wonder what sort of dangerous omen this is for Pedro Astacio's development that it was his fastball that Burnitz sent flying off into the distance. Burnitz also hit a double yesterday and drove in three runs. Sigourney Weaver hit a grand slam and drew three intentional walks.

Here's some good debate material for Mets followers: who is the more dangerously incompetent fielder at his position: Roger Cedeño in center field or Ty Wigginton fending off ground balls in the hot corner?

They say Fat Mo lost 20 pounds and is down to 258 pounds. Dunno who is doing the calculus for the Mets here but last time I looked, it takes more than 20 to get to 258 from 300 plus. It's never a good size when your weight is higher than your batting average.

Lastly, thanks to The Great Satan Quarterly for turning me on to Fire Steve, a wonderful website dedicated to the serious business of helping bring Steve Phillips' time as New York Mets general manager to an end immediately.


Yao Ming makes his MSG debut tonight against the Knicks. I only wish Marcus Camby would be around for it. If you remember, Camby is the guy who has those Chinese symbols tattoo'd on his arm. Once or twice, he tried to explain, in very ambiguous terms, what the symbols mean but frankly, I always had the impression he had no idea what they meant and was just bluffing. I'd have liked to have seen Yao Ming give us the "real" definition. It's probably some ancient Chinese proverb that means "Sometimes a good crutch is often better than a bad foot."

Sunday, February 23, 2003

It's All In The Name

One guy I've decided I'm going to be watching this season is Hee Seop Choi. Yeah, he only hit .180 in 50 at bats last season but he's got a great name. Yes waiter, I'll have an order of Kkakdugi and a side of Hee Seop Choi in ginger and sesame oil. How long before he hits 20 homeruns and Wrigley Field is sold out of Mung Bean Pancakes and cold Hite Prime? Only time will tell. In the meantime, here is my All-Spring Training Name Team to date. Feel free to add your own and I'll update the list as the names roll in:

1B: Hee Seop Choi, Chicago Cubs
2B: Pokey Reese, Pittsburgh Pirates
SS: Gookie Dawkins, Cincinnati Reds
3B: Pedro "Happy" Feliz, SF Giants
LF: So Taguchi, St. Louis Cardinals
CF: (TIE): Hiram Bocachica, Detroit Tigers and Coco Crisp, Cleveland Indians
RF: Quinton McCracken, Arizona Diamondbacks, whose name is a punchline waiting to happen.
C: Yorvit Torrealba, San Francisco Giants
RHP: Pasqual Coco, Toronto Blue Jays (stunning 18.00 ERA last season)
LHP: Jung Bong, Atlanta Braves
Pinch Runner Extraordinaire: Chone Figgins, Anaheim Angels

My favorite quote of the morning comes from Shaun Powell of Newsday:

"It's so quiet that you can hear Mo Vaughn's weight drop."

In The Sporting News, Todd Jones, a reliever for the Rockies who had one save and a 4.70 ERA last season, gives us some insight on the spring training housing hard life of a big-leaguer.

"Remember, we are there to work. Sleeping in a one-bedroom apartment with fraternity keggers going on outside is good for pampered big leaguers, anyway.".

I was disappointed he didn't mention anything about baseball groupies. On the other hand, maybe we're better off not knowing about the kind of baseball groupies hang around with washed-up relief pitchers like Todd Jones. Some kind of grotesque Paula Jones and Tonya Harding hybrid maybe. I certainly wouldn't want to see the photos.

Speaking of Tonya Harding, her pro debut last night was rife with disappointment as she lost a split decision to another novice, self-described bar room brawler Samantha Browning, in the Tyson undercard. The four rounds of stumbling and wrestling around made me imagine how much better suited she is for Smackdown than professional boxing. Just think: she could bill herself as "Tempestuous Tonya", the Portland Pummeler, carry a baseball bat with her into the ring and hire Jeff Gillooly as her manager. Her first pro wrestling match should be against Mimi Bobeck from the Drew Carey show.

USA Today has been keeping track of the 10 hardest things to do in sports. They started off with Downhill Skiing, then Saving A Penalty Kick and the Tour de France. Now they're up to running the marathon. I don't know what they have planned for future selections, but I'd like to pick a few of the hardest things for SportsFans to do:

1. Carrying three beers and two hot dogs without using a tray and without spilling a drop of beer while trying to make it back to your seat in the outfield bleachers of Yankee Stadium wearing a NY Mets cap.
2. Listening to Stuart Scott's hip-hop rendition of the sports news without getting a headache. Someone get that guy an English dictionary.
3. Listening to Dick Vitale's high-volume, hysterically enthusiastic shrieking every time someone dunks a basketball.
4. Being a Milwaukee Brewers fan. What's there to look forward to? Wendy Selig-Prieb Bobble Head Doll Giveaway Night?
5. Trying to figure out why Tiger Woods is supposed to make watching golf on television more interesting. If they really want to get me to watch golf on television, they'd have to add some nuances like exploding sand traps and sudden death playoffs that require the golfers who are tied at the end of a tournament to fight it out between each other with the golf club of their choice.

More LeBron Overkill

I tried out the macromedia flashplayer version of The LeBron Lottery and the results were amusing. The Toronto Raptors, with only a 6.5% chance of getting the winning pingpong ball, won an astounding three times out of the first seven times I tried it. LeBron James and Vince Carter, combined with Morris Peterson make for an impressive trio. Of course, let's say the chances of David Stern letting the LeBron James Merchandise Train pull into Canada's only team station are about as good as Saddam Hussein playing point guard for the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team. Nevertheless, perhaps it would be wise to start investing in your Toronto Raptors keychains while they're still only 99 cents apiece...(American, not Canadian cents)...

More good news for the Ny Mets Has-Been Fan Club: today they announced the signing of Tony Clark, the 30 year old phenom who hit an eye-numbing .207 last season with three WHOLE home runs and 29 RBI in 90 freakin games for the Red Sox last season. My impression is that the Mets signed him to take attention away from the fact that
Jeremy Burnitz not only still hasn't been traded yet, but is still in the starting line-up. Compared to Clark, Burnitz is looking like Ty Effin Cobb out there.

In fact, although I'm a Mets fan, I was a little discouraged while watching the local coverage last night. One of those little "haha" spots where the balding, incompetent local sportscaster (in NYC there is a pick of about a half dozen)interviews the player. Burnitz had just whiffed in his first batting cage effort of Spring Training against Tom Glavine and afterwards was asked about starting to strike out already. Burnitz just laughed it off, asking the reporter "Didn't you watch me last year?" --right Jeremy, no shockers here. No need to have any of that spring training optimism that you might somehow learn how to actually make contact when you swing at a pitched ball. Nothing like "Bury Me" Burnitz for a few good laughs at mediocrity to ease your own aching dread of pointlessness as the Mets trepidly begin their season.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Jaap's Preseason Picks
(Rough draft form only, not meant to be taken seriously until I've had more time to flesh out these unsubstantiated gut reactions and opinions.

AL East. Picking against the Yankees is like betting there won't be an invasion of Iraq. It's just stupid. The Yankees will do everything they want and need to win their division at least. Pick: Red Sox
AL Central: How long can the Twins stay motivated by the existence of Bud Selig? Pick: White Sox
AL West: The A's and the Mariners both lost their managers and have no budget. Texas just gained one of the better managers and has an unlimited budget. Pick: Texas. with a PS that the Angels will finish last and perhaps even set a record for worst record after a World Series Championship. Note to check on that record.
AL WC: Yankees.

NL East: Prediction one is that Larry Bowa will crack under the pressure of expectation. The Phillies have improved but that only puts them over .500. Prediction two is that Art Howe will fail miserably as manager of the Mets. In fact, everything poor old Wilpon touches will turn to sand. Glavine is past his prime. The bullpen sucks. There is a HUGE hole in the infield and the outfield couldn't field to save its own life. Bad news for Mets fans like me. Prediction: Atlanta
NL Central: The Cubs, like the Giants, quietly retooled with a great efficiency. And they will both win with Dusty Baker. Pick: Cubs
NL West: see above. Pick: Giants
NL WC: A race b/w St Louis, Los Angeles, Houston and Arizona. Arizona will collapse as soon as one of the two members of their team collapses. Houston has Kent, a clubhouse cancer. Los Angeles is still one of the more classic underachievers in baseball once Peter Angelos decided to destroy his team a few years back. Pick: St. Louis.

Post season:
Yankees defeat White Sox
Red Sox defeat Rangers
Red Sox defeat Yankees b/c the Yankees won't be able to buy more help in the post season. And also because this is the year of the goat.
Cubs defeat Atlanta (the annual Brave post season collapse)
SF defeats St. Louis
I can't decide who has done more to help themselves in the off season. Question is: Who is Dusty Baker better with, the Cubs or the Giants? Answer is: based upon 2003 Super Bowl results, former manager defeats former team, CUBS.

World Series: Cubs-Red Sox. Who ends their draught?

Answer is: Red Sox. Why? Last two seasons, world champions come from east or west in baseball, football and basketball, the only sports that matter. If the only two teams remaining are an east coast team and a midwest team, the logic naturally follies, as old A. Bunker used to say, with the east coast team.

Red Sox world champions.
You heard it here first, and I'm not even a Red Sox fan.