Monday, June 23, 2003

Armandogeddon
"They got me tonight," -- Armando Benitez, after walking 4 of the 7 Yankees he faced.

There are times when one wonders what sort of hallucinagen is in the water cooler of the Mess front office. First they fire one of the better managers in the game while retaining one of the more maladroit GMs in the game and then compound the error by waiting nine months to recognize their error and fire Steve Phillips. In between, they rashly hire a second-choice Charlie Brown rube of a manager like Hula Howe. And worst of all abominations, they didn't trade Armando Benitez during the off season before he'd had a chance to remind the rest of the Major Leagues what a criminally clownish closer he really is.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

La venganza de Santo Sammy

"Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent." --George Orwell

The baseball gods paid a visit to Great American Ball Park last night in the fifth inning when Sammy Sosa returned from his seven-game suspension for using a corked bat and launched a tremendous two-run, 464-foot home run off the top of the batting eye housing a party room in straightaway center field. It was Sosa's first home run in 69 at-bats dating back to May 1, and the longest in the 2½-month history of Great American Ball Park, the same ball park where he launched #500 a few months ago. While the fans haven't yet forgiven him for his transgression, apparently, the baseball gods have.

Even before the corked bat incident, I've been undecided about Sosa. Not because I questioned the legitimacy of his 500-plus career homeruns but because I could never fully come to a decision as to whether or not his white-shoe hotdogging, his homeplate homerun hop, and his shameless pandering to the fans was the cause of an ego gone painfully awry or simply the pantomimes of a man who craves to be loved. Sammy has always seemed sincere. (If you can understand his disjointed, hit-or-miss version of the English language without subtitles, that is.)

The corked bat incident is what finally swayed me in the end. Many athletes, like politicians, have and would again, under similar circumstances, create an entire compendium of half-truths, evasions and finger-pointing at anyone but themselves, solely to avoid the public's wrath. It's rare to see an athlete or politician stand up, admit their own frail mortality, confess their misjudgement or sin, and accept what was coming to them. One could argue that Sammy didn't exactly accept his punishment without protest, after all, he appealed the original eight game suspension and got seven instead, but we all know that was more about baseball PR letting Sammy hit against Roger Clemens in Wrigley Field with career win 300 hanging in the balance than it was about Sammy fudging over a game or two reduction of his suspension. Sammy cheated, and worse, got caught. But Sammy was right there, that night on ESPN, confessing to his fans, asking for forgiveness and standing up like a man. Professional sports could use more athletes with that kind of character.

So I was happy to see his little homerun hop, that poetic justice, and happier still to see that ball launched off into the distance of nostalgia, each foot it traveled slightly withering the healthy scepticism of how he blasted his other 505 homeruns. Judging by the reaction of the fans, the forgiveness of Sammy is still a long ways off, but last night at least, he began the long road back to the recovery of his reputation.

*****

The second incident of poetic justice in sport took place in Game 6 of the NBA finals. Not because the New Jersey Nets lost the series but because Kenyon Martin went 3 for 23 from the floor that night in what must have been the worst choking incident seen since Jimmy Hendrix died gargling a pool of his own vomit. Was it only a year ago when Martin called out Keith Van Horn under the veil of "guys who don't bring it every night" after the four game sweep by the Lakers, telling people to "look at the statistics"? Van Horn went 3 for 7 from the floor that night and ended up getting traded. Kenyon was hit 36 of 107 shots from the floor for the finals, barely 34%. Is that "bringing it"? How do you feel now, punk?

Second to Kenyon Martin's pallid, cadaverous performance, I'd rate the Rent-A-Kidd overplayed saga night after night as the most laughable story of the finals. "I want to win a championship, and that’s the bottom line,” he says about his decision to duck the Nets and look for greener pastures. His team made it to the NBA Finals two years running but they've got nothing to show for it. Impatience, thou art my God, goes the Psalm, and so goes Jason, looking for the instant fix instead of helping to finish the job of creating one. “This is a business. That’s what it comes down to.” he says, implying perhaps that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The truth is, the Spurs have already won twice with Tim Duncan and without Jason Kidd and there's no reason why they wouldn't win again without him. Sorry, loser. Instead of moving out of New Jersey, Kidd should be lobbying the management to rid the team of over-rated teammates like Jefferson and Kenyon Martin who are, as they say in Texas, "all hat and no cattle," and throw their hat into the Kevin Garnett Sweepstakes.

I've got a cruel revelation about basketball in Gotham. It's called Pavel Podkolzine and it's another draft day train wreck waiting to happen. Knick draft doyens are rumored to be enamoured with the 7'4 300 pound Russian center who gives every indication, with his inexperience and his thyroid problems, of turning into another blundering Gheorghe Muresan or worse, another Frederic Weis. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Forget being fancy. If he's available, take Mike Sweeney. Is there something about a future Elton Brand to plug up a pathetic middle that the Knicks don't like?

*****

Tomorrow night the Mess kick off their Subway Series against the Yankees. It's a special time of mass hysteria here in New York, even if the Mess only climbed out of the NL East basement last night. There aren't many times these days that Mess fans have a chance to humiliate those obnoxious neanderthal bleacher bum boors but with regardless of the standings, this series has been even-up since its inception. A month ago, wallowing in the 7 train self-pity of a Mess fan, I might have dreaded this series but the Mess, with their youthful infusion of enthusiasm, hustle and unexpected heroics, have transformed themselves, as I noted last week, from underachievers to underdogs, and there's no reason why they can't take games two and three from the Yankees and send Steinbrenner spinning into another bile-choking cataclysm of innuendo threats and inner rage.

With the trade rumors flying, I will note one trade I'd like to see: Armando Benitez to the Yankees. Red Sox fans should be praying they don't land Armando the Awful if they want to have any illusions about making it through the post season. Sending Benitez to the Yankees for, would doom the hopes of Steinbrenner for another world title. I don't even care who they get for Benitez. Bubba Trammell and Sterling Hitchcock? Fine. Just so long as the Yankees get Benitez. Sweet revenge.

And lastly, here's a little speculation for Reds fans who claim they want a legitimate shot at the NL Central to chew over: Al Leiter and Roberto Alomar for Austin Kearns. Crazy? Sure, but as Bill Lumburgh said in Office Space: "If you could just go ahead and make sure you do that from now on, that would be great."

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out

"Hey, you know it ain't easy
Just go and ask Bobby V
The way this is going
We're gonna crucify Steve"


from The Ballad of Steve Phillips

It looks as though the Wilpon father and son Chump Consortium has finally woken up and seen the light. With a full menu of imminently tradeable roster members waiting to be dumped like chum upon shark-infested waters, the Mets will finally fire GM Steve Phillips this afternoon and replace him with interim GM Jim Duquette for the time being while, one hopes, Omar Minaya is coaxed away from the Expos.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Poor, Persecuted Pedro
"Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth. Blowing down the backroads headin' south.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth. You're an idiot babe, it's a wonder that you still know how to breathe"
Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind"

In the midst of a news firestorm surrounding the Sammy Sosa and The Corked Bat epic, a little voice of idiotic reasoning was heard wailing in the wind the other day that the only reason there is such media controversy over one of the most prolific homerun hitters in our generation getting busted in mid-game for and admitting to using a corked bat was because of "racial bias" by the media.

Pedro Martinez, an unabashed spinmaster and outspoken purveyor of all things Dominican now wants us to believe that "If it was [Mark] McGwire, it would still be a big deal, but not like this."

Poor Persecuted Pedro has an ailing memory. Apparently, his collected history of racial bias in the media, as a matter of convenience, doesn't account for the media's protracted braying and indignation over Mark McGwire's use of androstenedione. McGwire was using what was then, a legal nutritional supplement, a fact that never slowed sports journalists from using their columns to castigate him with their stertorous moral preaching.

"We might be Latin and minorities, but we're not dumb," Pedro brayed further. "We see everything that happens." he says ominously.

If the vision of Poor Persecuted Pedro and his Dominican Martyr Brigade wasn't so already slanted by the pale, skewed light of his misplaced sense of racial bias, perhaps Peter Gammons wouldn't have had to issue a statement denying Pedro's absurd allegation that claimed Gammons said "We don't want the Latin [expletive] to be in front of the TV all the time." in justifying why Zito won last year's Cy Young instead of Pedro the Oppressed.

Even Pedro's lone claim to legitimacy, that the media should spend as much energy noting that the rest of Sosa's bats were clean as they did on questioning Sosa ad hoc on the corked bat, limps woefully out of touch with reality. The sad reality of modern media is that a story is sold based on its sensationalistic qualities. It simply isn't sexy, and thus, not as marketable, to note, amid all the hype and hysteria, that all of Sosa's other bats were clean, just as amid the tsunami of controversy that followed the revelation of McGwire's use of andro, no one led their headlines with "McGwire Uses Legal Nutritional Supplement."

It isn't racial bias in the media, it's the bias in the media against truths that inconvenience the sale of the hype. Maybe Pedro, in his paranoid, delusional world, is just too tainted by his own self-appointed stupid to see that.

*****

There was plenty of controversy surrounding Nets coach Byron Scott's decision not to double team MVP Tim Duncan in Game One. In response, Scott spat out "I don't listen to people who write papers about how to guard this guy, because unless you're seven feet and you're writing for the newspaper and you're guarding Tim Duncan, you can't suggest anything to me as far as how to guard him," he said. "You can't tell me how to guard him."

That's quite a lengthy criteria for telling Mr. Scott how to do his job. Fortunately, it wasn't only the people writing the papers who were complaining. In discussing Scott's decision not to double team Duncan, Kenyan Martin noted "That's not our game plan, to come out and double him right off, but if [Duncan's] got it going, a fool wouldn't do it." Someone who IS seven feet, David Robinson, admitted "I did kind of expect [Mutombo] to come in and play a little bit more. When you've got a big 7-foot-3 guy on the bench, it's kind of nice to be able to bring him in."

Hmmm. In Game Two, Mutombo and Jason Collins got more face time against Duncan, Kenyon Martin was paired off against David Robinson and there was alot more sagging in the lanes. Result? Nets win. While Scott had been demonized in the local press as being as stubborn as Pat Riley when it comes to making team adjustments, it speaks volumes of Scott's coaching ability (and sanity) that he gave in to common sense and changed the defensive strategy against Duncan. Of course, Duncan's season-long charity stripe choking coming to fruition in a 3 for 10 effort last night didn't hurt either.

It may seem odd but there are probably alot of Nets fans out there rooting for Tony Parker to shine in this championship series. If Parker proves he's a legitimate point guard, the Spurs have no real cause to waste money paying Jason Kidd the megabucks to come to San Antonio and thus, Kidd is more likely to stay on with the Nets. The one thing I never really understood, as Kidd hems and haws about whether or not he would stay in New Jersey citing that his one criteria as being the desire to play for a team with a shot to win the title, is who the hell is he playing for right now? Don't the Nets have a legitimate shot to win the title?

*****

Today is a big day for New York sports. Funny Cide, the local horse with the local ownership, goes into the Belmont with a legitimate shot at winning the Triple Crown and Roger Clemens, the old horse in pinstripes, goes into the staid envions of Wrigley Field with a legitimate shot at winning his 300th game. Will either succeed?

One thing in Funny Cide's favor is that he is a gelding. Having been neutered, unlike other stallion champions, there is no future of wild times at the ole stud farm at the end of this rainbow. Winning races is the only thing he has to look forward to.

As for Clemens' start, it doesn't get any better than today's game for hype and pressure. Today he will face Kerry Woods, the man who tied his 20 strikeout game record and who idolized him growing up. He will face a cork-less Sammy Sosa, who has not homered in his last 14 games. He will face destiny, which has thus far laughed in his face.

Since predictions are for the well-informed or the fools, for the record, I'll only note that I'll be rooting for Funny Cide to win and Sammy Sosa to tag a fat homerun on to Waveland Avenue off Clemens in another no-decision fade out.

Monday, June 02, 2003

New Jersey, Titletown, USA?:
"I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to." - Elvis Presley

I don't have any solid, substantiated evidence on this, but my theory all along in New York City has been that those who root for the Mets also root for the Jets and those who root for the Yankees, also root for the Giants. It's some sort of cosmography of the New York sports world. In any case, this reality leaves most New York fans ,at least during the football season, without much of a choice in having to root for a team that plays its games in the swamps of the Meadowlands, New Jersey, an otherwise unbearable chancre of a state whose biggest claim to fame lately has been The Sopranos.

So it's almost shocking to the system to think that a collective cockroach of a state like New Jersey could lay claim not only to the NHL title but also the NBA title simultaneously. Vulgar, almost. Like electing Mike Tyson as your mayor.

That is, of course, unless you consider an even more horrific outcome: Disney-owned franchise claiming two out of the four major professional sports titles. The reigning baseball champions are the Anaheim Angels, owned, at the time of their World Series Championship, by the Disney Corporation. Bad enough in and of itself when you consider the absurdity of a mix of Donald Duck and baseball, but inspirationally unoriginal in its pathetic paen to Gene Autry, the offkey cowboy with impeccable morals. Then, the problem is compounded by something called the Anaheim Ducks and owned by the Disney Corporation making it to the Stanley Cup finals. Disney overload my friends. So in the case of the Stanley Cup, it is imperative that the New Jersey Devils defeat the Anaheim Ducks in order to save the future of sports from some sort of evil duck cartoon serialization sponsored by Disney, even if it allows New Jersey to pull off its double.

Still, I can't quite bring myself to root for Prozac Nation Duncan and his San Antonio Spurs over the New Jersey Nets. It's history. I still remember the them kicking and beating up on the wounded and Ewing-less Knicks in the 1999 Finals with Duncan and Robinson and the squeaky Avery Johnson like they were Alex and his three droogs beating that tramp to death in A Clockwork Orange. That was the same year the Spurs won a record 12 consecutive playoff games. Ever since then, I've thrilled at their every misfortune so with the Nets have a running total of 10 straight playoff victories to date, there would be a certain sort of vicarious thrill to see the Nets knock off the Spurs and their record all in one championship. Another year of the sort of milquetoast assassins and deadpan gloating eminating out of San Antonio would be intolerable.

So for the first time outside of the football season, there will be rooting for New Jersey from New York. Hopefully it's not like some easily transmittable toxic rash that itches all summer long.

*****

There is a certain delicious schadenfreude in the recent tribulations of Roger Clemens on his road to 300 victories. This is why Mike Piazza was so busy kneeling in front of the Pope this off season. Obviously he wasn't begging for a healthy 2003 season or reaching the homerun record for catchers. You think he isn't constantly reminded of how he punked out against Clemens in Game Two of that World Series? Yes sir, Mike Piazza was begging the Pope not to let Roger Clemens reach 300 victories.

This has potential to become baseball's Greatful Dead tour this summer. Can you imagine the 300 victory pilgrimages all summer long, the Clemens extended family and friends, rabid and vengeful Red Sox fans, anti-Selig demonstrators? The Pete Rose protesters? The George Steinbrenner apologists, the Bobby Valentine fans in fake noses and moustaches and the Sabermetrics scholars recording every fart, screech and moan of the growing baseball circus? Michael Moore could direct Roger and Me Two, a documentary chronicling the efforts of Roger Clemens to earn his 300th victory while David Wells sucks up all the sloppy seconds and wins 20 games out of the bullpen relieving Clemens in game after game as the Yankee infield performs mystic feats of fielding bloopers destined to blow enormous leads against second-rate baseball teams into the unforeseeable future.

*****

A new pet complaint rolling around in the bowels lately is the advent of Overhyped Non-Stories in Non-Sports: Already this year we've had Femnazi Martha Burke versus Hootie Johnson and his clan of political incorrect desperados drumming up artificial controversy and screaming for vengeance and attention like The Furies of Aeschylus. Then came the hysterical "Annika versus The Men", casuistry which played out the string of idiotic clich├ęs to their illogical conclusions. Golf and Sexism. A selling point with growth potential. After all, with Golf and Sex only an "ism" away, how long before we see Outlaw Golf with its biker babe, stripper, and Japanese dominatrix golfers, selling big on a second-rate cable sports channel? When does the media get to sink its teeth into the Anna Kournakova of the links? I think these overhyped non-stories in the anti-sport of golf were figmented into neomythologies in the commercial world as a cynical marketing ploy, not sincere efforts at highlighting archaic values in modern sports culture.

Bowling, another anti-sport of questionable marketing possibilities should follow its lead. Sell sexism. Bring forward their misogynistic credos, their terminologies and slang into the public light for examination and titulation, perhaps even expose their naked bowling underground. For a refresher course on the sexism of bowling terminologies, here are a few to consider:

Alley: Although this is commonly known as the surface on which the ball is rolled, "alley" is also a place where prostitutes gather and consort. What about "back alley abortions"? Do you see how demeaning it is to women? Bowling is conducted on something that hammers home two negative images of women.

Bed posts: Which, as we know, is the 7-10 split. Do you recall what a 7-10 split looks like? Maybe a woman with her legs spread? Bedposts? When you succeed, you "pick" a split. Sounds like the kind of talk you hear in the sitting room of brothels. More negative stereotyping.

Head pin is the number one pin. Clearly referencing some sort of Orphic phallic worship ceremony. What do you think the head pin is a euphemism for anyway? You think they'd make pins in the shape of a women's vulvas? Of course not. Bowling simply isn't integrated enough. The most important things in bowling are the ball and the pins. Why not roll ovaries instead of balls? Is it too much to ask for a little female representation in the terminologies of the "sport"?

Mark is making either a spare or strike in a frame. Clearly this references some sort of male scoring ritual like notching a bedpost with every woman they've slept with. More negative stereotyping, keeping score of women slept with as though they were simply widgets in the mechanism of male hormones. Filthy.

So you see, bowling has quite alot to market in its cesspool of uncontrollably fashionable sexism. Take golf's lead and Hype the Hubris!