Monday, April 30, 2007

NFL Draft

As is custom, the staff are on holiday during the draft week chaos in order to ponder things of deeper meaning that tend to get lost in the earthquake of sporting news like the death of another Cardinal.

I mean, I wake up on a Monday morning, just after midnight to watch the UK broadcast of the Cards-Cubs game and instead we get what? A replay of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. You remember that one? Schilling on the mound against Clemens, The Unit coming in to relieve. Holy shit, what a game. It's a pity Josh Hancock died but watching the replay of that game was better than any live Cardinals-Cubs broadcast, for certain.

Anyway, I've lost track of the thread here - the NFL Draft. It's one of those things that people bitch and complain about being overhyped yet seem to follow it as closely (some anyway) as the playoffs. Overrated players, unknown picks - what difference just it make just yet? Six years from now, perhaps some impact but right now? Nada.

I'm guessing Joe Thomas and Brady Quinn are not going to lead the Browns to the Super Bowl this season...

They grade the Cleveland Browns ability to take the best offensive lineman available in Joe Thomas who might, like many offensive collegiate juggernauts, prove no good in the NFL and then getting Brady Quinn who might end up being Joe Montana or equally Rick Mirer but more likely somewhere in between. I don't think it's a big deal, a change-the-franchise 'round sort of moment. It's just that the Browns have been so bad for so long, any good news seems like ecstatic news. And granted, if you're a Browns fan you're happy so I won't be pissing on your parade.

Good luck with that one, Tom Brady

But what about the Patriots picking up Randy Moss? This, on the heels of a heady offseason of free agent signings and a solid draft probably make them, with chips on their shoulders and perhaps the final season of Bellichick looming over their shoulders, early favourites to overtake the Colts one last time.



Well, the first month's in the bag.

One dead player and for most teams, 24-26 games under their belt -those teams of course that weren't snowed out.

Some suprises in the first month:

1. Yankees ending month at the bottom of the AL East with a 9-14 record.

Sure, Joe Torre is being supported, for now by the Evil Steinbrenner but if this goes on another few weeks, injuries to starters notwithstanding, how long before Joe Girardi gets the nod?

Torre, to these ears unconvincingly, says there's alot of baseball left. True enough, it might just be though that he won't be involved in it...

"I don't think the standings are an issue at this point," Torre said after Sunday's loss. "We all know we're going to start winning consistently sooner or later. Obviously, sooner is more appropriate. … We need to play better. We will. … Long-term, you know, water will seek its level."

2. Defending World Champion Cardingals ending month at the bottom of the NL Central with a 10-14 record.

You knew something was up when they were swept in the first three games of the season by the Mets, a team they'd knocked out in the NLCS to get to the World Series to begin with.

The slow start, the death to another's the hell to pay for last season's success, for sure. But otherwise, it's a dearth of hitting - look at the heart of the lineup - Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen hitting .250, .222 and .250 respectively.

Then you've got a starting pitcher in the form of Kip Wells stinking up the jernt. 6 starts with a 1-5 record and a 5.65 ERA. Ace starter Chris Carpenter has pitched only once this season before getting shelved on to the DL.

3. Baseball card collection fetches $1.6 million at Auction - imagine that - baseball cards making one a millionaire. Think of all those shoe boxes binned by errant mothers in all those lifetimes past...

4. You thought Sandy Koufax was finished? Not in Israel where he was drafted last week to play for one of the six inaugural teams in Israel's newly-formed professional baseball league.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dice-K Outhurled In Fenway Debut

As a footnote on the long highway of the 2007 season this will probably not mean much or perhaps not even be long-remembered.

But for one night anyway, the hype machine of Dice-K was temporarily derailed when its spotlight was stolen by the brilliant pitching performance of Seattle's own ace hurler, Felix Hernandez.

As you may have heard, Hernandez one-hit the Red Sox in his duel against Daisuke Matsuzaka and had a no-hitter going until JD Drew singled in the 8th.

Watching the game in the pre-dawn hours of England telly I couldn't help but be amazed not by the pitching performance of a 21 year old but by how often the muppet broadcasters mentioned the no-no.

I'd always thought it was supposed to be a bit of a jinx for teammates to mention a potential no-hitter in the midst of it and yet here were these human turds with mouths clamouring for the chance to point out the obvious over and over again, jinxing everything in their midst all in the incessant battle to show, what? They already know what we already know?

You know why you don't see no-hitters on tv? Because big mouthed announcers can't shet their feckin gobs long enough about it, that's why. They don't care about watching a no-hitter, they care about talking about it and talking about it and talking about it until you're almost rooting for a goddamned hit just so they'll shut up about it already.

The Godzilla-Versus-Mothra-like battle between Matsuzaka and Seattle Mariners all-star center fielder Ichiro Suzuki nearly ground the Tokyo stock market to a halt.

If you're a Seattle fan you can wallow in the bliss knowing you didn't spend half a fortune to sign youthful ace pitcher. Hernandez in two starts this season has allowed a grand total of four hits in 17 innings.

photo courtsey of Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer

The recent postponement of four scheduled games between the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners due to a freakish Spring snowstorm has sparked furious debate yet again about the commencement dates, length and close of the baseball season.

Some whinge that it is greed prompting the season to start so early and that if it weren't for the greedy owners we wouldn't be seeing snowed out games in April.

Firstly I would reply by noting how eagerly most true baseball fans await their respective teams' Opening Days. Those filling the stadiums aren't clamouring to have another dozen games played down in Arizona or Florida just on the offhand chance it might be too cold or the sun might not be shining bright enough for them to want to take in the game.

Secondly who is to say Bud Selig and his Stooge Crew haven't set such an early start to the season simply out of deference to global warming? After all, if the carbon-footprinting alarmists have it right we're only another microwaved meal or short flight to the Continent away from spending the rest of our summer holidays under a palm tree in Antarctica whilst the rest of the planet turns into a desert punctuated by tsunamis and hailstorms that not even your great grandparents would have walked 20 miles to get to school under.

To those who whinge about it being "too cold" for baseball in April (players included – for the salaries they receive they should be willing to play in the bowels of hell if required,) I say baseball and its fans are getting too soft. How come in Cleveland in the middle of winter, in subzero temperatures and even blizzards grown men can paint their faces, down a few shots and spend 60 minutes worth of outdoor football bare-chested and loving it as the frostbite sets in but in Cleveland in April, just let a few inches of snow fall and they have to not only cancel games but MOVE them to a place like Milwaukee? Aren't baseball players or their fans tough enough to brave a little wind chill and flurries for the love of their sport?

There is no reason to make the baseball season start any later or end any earlier just because society has grown too soft. True, Opening Days in decades past started later in April than they do now. But that doesn't mean an early opener is to blame for the recent snowstorms in Cleveland. This is weather, people. It isn't predictable, no matter how much they pay those goofy airbrushed caricatures meteorologists on your local news to pretend that it is. So long as baseball is willing to be held hostage to the whimsy of Mother Nature, these arguments will prevail. Just don't blame the early Opening Days.

If you don't believe me consider that at the start of the 1907 season, the New York Giants opened against the Phillies following a heavy snowstorm. According to this account, it wasn't even the weather to blame:

In preparation for the game, groundskeepers were forced to shovel large drifts of snow onto the outer edges of the field in foul territory. After falling behind 3-0, the disappointed fans at the Polo Grounds began hurling snowballs onto the playing field, disrupting play. As the melee progressed, chaos ensued and fans began rushing onto the field to continue the snowball fight. After being pelted, Home plate umpire Bill Klem had enough and called a forfeit in favor of the Phillies.

They didn't move the games to Milwaukee, the new Caribbean of the National League. No, they shoveled the snow drifts and carried on back in 1907.

So whilst an excess of 19,000 fans showed up to watch the Indians "host" the Angels at Milwaukee's Miller Park, the Brewers themselves had their game in Florida postponed due to rain in the 10th inning!

If baseball, its players or its fans aren't really willing to overcome, like postmen, rain, sleet or snow in order to play then the only realistic answer to climate change and baseball's inability to overcome it is to make retractable roofs mandatory on all baseball stadiums in America. That way there will be no cancellations, no postponements, no rain delays, no players sliding on puddled tarps. There will just be baseball. Without the weather.

Monday, April 09, 2007

One Week Anniversary

Well, the first week of the new baseball season is behind us.

The Yankees are already being beaten up mercilessly not only by the unlikely O's but also the media, predictably, with their starters going to pieces and a rotten 2-3 start to what had once been a potentially glorious opening season homestand.

"Through five games, one time through the rotation, no Yankees starter has gone beyond the fifth inning, and only Kei Igawa, who gave up seven runs, completed that inning. The starters' ERA in 212/3 innings is 9.97;"

The defending World Champion Cardinals have recovered albeit slowly from the opening series sweep by the Mets, having taken two from the miserable Houston Astros who are now only one loss less miserable than the Washington Nats. The Cards still sit in 5th place in the NL Central, two games behind the Reds.

The defending AL Champion Detroit Tigers fared a little better against the KC Royals to climb back to a game behind the Twins in the AL Central. The Tigers have three regulars who are each 3-for-17, and one who is 0-for-17. "I'm taking perfect swings," insisted Brandon Inge, the 0-for guy. "I think they're cheating. They've got 20 infielders and outfielders when I'm hitting. I actually feel perfect (at the plate)."

The Braves continue to surprise having swept the lowly Phillies to start the season and then to take two of three at home from the NL East defending champion Mets. As Archie Bunker's Army recounts, the Mets are out of first place for the first time in a year.

Hopefully a homestand against the crap Phillies will cure what ails the Mets. The Phillies bloom early, flounder earlier:

"In 'Tales from the Phillies Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Philadelphia Phillies Stories Ever Told,' Rich Westcott describes how the Phillies organization is one of the worst one-name, one-city franchises in all of professional sports. No club ever finished in last place 29 times; no team blew a pennant after holding a six-and-a-half game lead with 12 left to play; and no team hit .315 for the season, lost 102 games, and finished 40 games out of first place."

Currently they linger ahead of only the miserable Nats in the NL East with only 1 victory this season.

Doing just as poorly are the SF Giants who signed the sought after Barry Zito to their rotation in the offseason. Didn't do them much good.

And the NL MVP candidates, equally poor.

As the season's first week came to an end the 2006 NL MVP Award winner, Ryan Howard of Philadelphia, was hitting .159 (3-for-19) with no homers or RBIs. Albert Pujols of St. Louis, who finished second in the MVP voting last season, was hitting .059 (1-for-17) with no homers or RBIs. Lance Berkman of Houston, who finished third in the balloting, was hitting .235 (4-for-17) with a homer and two RBIs. That's a combined .151 (8-for-53) for the three players who accounted for the top three spots and all 32 first-place votes last season.

This Week

The Mets open today against the Phillies at Shea.

Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch his first ever game at Fenway on Wednesday.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Let The Season Begin

Amid all the expected pageantry, the flag waving, the nostalgia, and the glorious of another season of baseball the following games opened the season:

Reds 5, Cubs 1

Is it pointless for Cubs fans to EVER get their hopes up for a season?

If you are not a Cubs fan there was something more inevitable to ponder: hosting Opening Day in a city that can claim the first professional baseball game back in 1869.

Rather than join Cubbies fans wallowing in the misery of false expectations that only the signing of Lou Piniella and a trillion dollar payroll could raise, why not consider the momentary euphoria of Reds fans?

I don't think anyone would mistake Cincinnati for a metropolis. In fact, its sorta small town hokeyness is part of its few moments of charm never better represented than on opening day:

It's the kind of place where they can make fun of their goofy, dapper Mayor muffing the opening pitch of the season, doing a Mike Piazza impression of sorts, the auld two or three hop to the bag.

And just in case you thought it was all fun and games, there was Pete Rose hovering over the ceremonies like a dark cloud.

"The all-time hit king, serving a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for betting on the game, sat seven rows behind home plate in the Diamond Club section. Wearing a Reds hat, gold shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, Rose ate lunch at the Diamond Club's restaurant. He also met with Reds owner Bob Castellini and Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory before finding his seat with a ticket he purchased last month."

Braves 5, Phillies, 3

Oh, much ballyhoo'ed Phillies team prattled on and on all Spring about getting a quick start.

The Phillies opened their 125th Major League season against an old National League East rival, the Atlanta Braves and not suprisingly, lost in the 10th due to a blown save by their rubbish bullpen. A game behind the Mets already!

Renteria gets a frightening 2 homer start

"I just feel bad for my teammates in letting them down. Hopefully, this is the last time I do it this season."

-- Ryan Madson, wanking reliever who surrendered game-losing homer.

Philadelphia went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Of course even this sort of schadenfreude must be tempered by the idea that it was the Braves doing the winning. Too bad it isn't possible for both teams to lose the same game.

Blue Jays 5, Tigers 3

Not suprisingly, the defending AL Champs lost their home opener. Why not suprisingly? Because these Tigers who swept past anyone's wildest expectations last season will tumble early and hard to earth this season. We can't blame it all on the acquisition of Gary Sheffield, as much as we would profess his signing being such a harbinger of doom.

There's no one to blame it on really, save for reality. You don't suffer 12 losing seasons in a row for nothing. Sports Amnesia have the Tigers finishing 4th in the AL Central behind the Indians, ChiSox and Twins, in that order. I could go all Sabermetric on you, making your head spin with stats and possibilities but the bottom line is this: alot of young pitchers, alot of innings and this season to follow, alot of injuries. Trust me on this one. The magic of The Marlboro Man Manager Jim Leyland can only last so long with a cancer like Sheffield in the clubhouse.

Last season, the Tigers were the comeback kids. They won 12 games after trailing in the sixth inning, 12 after trailing in the seventh and seven after trailing in the eighth. Not this time around.

After 10 innings the Blue Jays, after sneaking past the Red Sox into second place in the AL East last season, out-bullpened the reigning champs and pulled out their own opening game victory.

Marlins 9, Nationals 2

Perhaps fatefully, RFK stadium saw its final Opening Day.

And though hardly a nail-biter, this struggle between the two teams likely to battle it out to avoid the NL East cellar prove that winning isn't everything|?

"It's not how you want to start the season," Nats "ace" John Patterson said afterward. "With so much doubt in the air and everything, it's easy to say, 'I told you so.' But we can't pay attention to that."

Best not pay attention at all. Keep your eyes closed, Nats fans. Another year of misery awaits yea.

And of course, like Chicago which saw both their Cubs and White Sox lose their openers, the Beltway area teams both lost with the O's joining the Nats in a losing effort, a 7-4 loss of their own against the Twins.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Opening Day

Opening Day, or perhaps more precisely, Opening Evening, crept up with great stealth on me this season.

It seemed only a few days ago the Super Bowl was finished and the doldroms of a brief period without either football or baseball had set it as quickly as the anticipation of pitchers and catchers reporting.

Of course, in England one is able to keep oneself preoccupied with a myriad of other choices: The Premiership, wherein Manchester United are poised to regain their lost mantle of supremacy over the new Evil Empire of English sport; Chelsea.

And if the professional league, arguably the best in the world isn't enough to keep your sporting mind occupied there is also the battles of the Champions League which have seen the likes of Man U, Chelsea AND Liverpool advance to the quarterfinals; three English representatives out of eight quarterfinalists, a rather remarkable number. (And if you aren't familiar with the Champions League, this is a sort of Super Competition transposed over the top of the regular season each European league conducts wherein the top two, three or four teams from each of those leagues fights for the title of best professional team in Europe...)

And if these professional competitions still fail to satisfy well, by God, there's still the qualifying matches for the Euro2008. If you have the misfortune of being an England supporter this, in particular, is a painful series of sporting events to watch; England drawing nil nil to Israel and then waiting til late to dispense with tiny Andorra.

Yes, the Euro2008 qualifiers are indeed plenty of fodder to keep the baseball and American football-less minds occupied. Why, second-guessing and berating England manager Steve McClaren has in itself become almost a national pasttime.

And if football isn't your sport there is still more in this bottomless wealth of alternative national sports to occupy the time in England.

Why just last month England's chances to win the Six Nations Championship came down to a last second try allowed by Ireland against Italy, followed by a last second try by France against Scotland and well, by then the English had to satisfy themselves getting humiliated by the Welsh.

Lastly let us not forget glorious, bloody cricket.

This seemingly innocuous sport has in the past weeks of its World Cup brought us not only the compelling escapades of the English captain, Freddie Flintoff, wasted and humiliated by a night out on the piss, but has also brought us the Mother of All Sporting Death Scandals, the death murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer.

And yes, somehow amid all these endless 24 hours, trans-globe sporting events there was time to visit the Dorset Jurassic Coast this past weekend. A few days away from the controversy and excitement of English sport.

Small wonder, then that I overslept beyond my 1 am wakeup call to catch the beginning of the 2007 baseball season to watch my beloved Mets extract a modicum of revenge from the team that kept them from the World Series last season.

Yes, there is indeed a world outside of ESPN, amazing as that might seem and whilst it has been easy to while away these weeks without any major American sport of interest to compel me, Opening Day is here and I'm ever so glad to see it's return.