Friday, November 20, 2009

Video: Weird and Whacky Moments in Sports [J. Mark English]

Video: Top 10 Signs Your NFL Team Owner is Nuts [J. Mark English]

New York Knicks: Fading Dreams? [J. Mark English

This week the Knickerbockers had the opportunity to sign Allen Iverson, and add at least a little moxy to an otherwise futile squad. As they flounder in despair, waiting in earnest for next summers free agent jamboree, some writers offer up thoughts about why Knicks dreams of what may be, may not be:

Mike Lupica of the Daily News:

It doesn't matter in the end whether it was James L. Dolan who didn't want Allen Iverson, or Donnie Walsh, or Mike D'Antoni. Knicks fans wanted Iverson. But they don't matter and haven't for a long time.

When it was reported in the last 24 hours that the Knicks were backing away from Iverson, I got a call from my friend Brian Koppelman, who has been a Knicks' season ticketholder for 21 years, who sits a few rows behind where the great Red Holzman used to sit with his wife after he retired from coaching.

Koppeman's son is 14 now and so was too young to really enjoy the last time the Knicks were relevant in New York or in pro basketball, back when they were a hot ticket in the decade before this one. His son was four when the Knicks made the NBA Finals in 1999, coming from the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference to do that. Even the next year, the spring of 2000 they still had enough, even with half the team hurt, to make it all the way to Game 6 against the Pacers in the conference finals before Reggie Miller scored 17 in the fourth quarter and got them again.

So Brian Koppelman's son has really only known, and seen, what everybody has known about the Knicks and seen from them for a decade: The worst team in the league. One now completely unwatchable. And more irrelevant than it has ever been. The New York Expiring Contracts.

"If they sign Iverson," Koppelman said over the phone yesterday, "and he plays against the Celtics (at the Garden on Sunday afternoon), then we stand and cheer when he takes the floor. It would have been a moment for Knicks fans to get up on their feet for the Knicks this season, not for a player like LeBron on the other team."

Koppelman said, "There is no moment like it that I can foresee for us over the rest of the season."

There have been all the lines and jokes about how Iverson has been known as The Answer, and how one 34-year old gunner, past his prime, could not possibly be The Answer for these Knicks, not this season. But you know what? He would have made them a better ticket.

Iverson wouldn't have made it worth the money Knicks fans who still go and watch and care are paying, but he would have made them better than Chris Duhon or Toney Douglas.

Jeff Neuman of Real Clear Sports:

Wake up and smell the powder, New York. LeBron's not coming.

It's hard to blame Knicks fans for clinging to hope. The most sophisticated basketball clientele in America has been saddled with a team that's richly embarrassing. The toxic remnants from the Isiah era remain in the form of mismatched players, empty seats, and the stench that comes with a 2-10 record.

Donnie Walsh has performed a miracle in clearing enough cap space to have room for a big free agent in the coming offseason. Mike D'Antoni coaches a style players love, one that lets them run the floor and make plays without looking to the puppet-master on the sidelines.

Doesn't matter. LeBron's not coming.

Why would he? As much as any superstar we've ever seen, he understands that it's a team game, and he always has. He has nothing to prove individually; it's about winning championships.

Add LeBron to the Knicks, and you're still three years away from being any good. He'd make them respectable, but why would he take such a great leap backwards? From a basketball standpoint, the move makes no sense.

But what about the dollars? He'd be coming to New York! The Big Apple! The World's Most Famous Arena! Think of all the off-court benefits that flow from being a big star in The Big City.

The notion that playing in New York has any significant effect on an athlete's value is an utter myth. It's a holdover from the "Mad Men" era, a relic from the days when you only saw endorsement opportunities if your name was Gifford or Mantle or Namath.

To begin with, how many more commercials does LeBron have time for? It's not as though he's underexposed. If he wants to release his own songs, make a movie, put his name on a fragrance or design a line of nonstick cookware, he can do it tomorrow without setting foot outside Ohio. He's at that level of fame where the world comes to him. (Have you even noticed that his last name hasn't appeared in this column yet?)

Playing in Chicago didn't exactly limit Michael Jordan's income. Indianapolis hasn't prevented Peyton Manning from appearing in more commercials than the ShamWow! guy. Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken became endorsement juggernauts from their bases in Texas and Baltimore respectively. Tom Brady met Gisele Bündchen despite the handicap of being in New England. Brett Favre did okay playing in the smallest market in sports. (His one season in New York only hurt his reputation.)

Who exactly has reaped the rewards of New York exposure? I don't recall Patrick Ewing getting a lot of endorsements. Mariano Rivera is considered the greatest closer ever, featured in loving closeup for dozens of hours of postseason television. What's it given him in off-field opportunities? Jason Giambi, C.C. Sabathia, even Alex Rodriguez - they came to New York, and didn't exactly set business hearts a-flutter.

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A Few Tidbits [J. Mark English]

  • Recently someone suggested the idea that the new "Giants" Stadium should be called JetBlue Stadium. If, that is, both the Jets and the Giants plan on allowing a company to purchase the name of the stadium, would that not be a perfect name to cover both teams? Of course as someone pointed out to me, JetBlue may not be able to afford the lofty cost of buying the rights to the stadium. We shall see.
  • Another fun bit of information that was tossed around the other day is that the New York Yankees have just as many wins in November as do the New York Jets, New York Giants, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, and the New York Rangers combined. That is pathetic. But I'm sure Yankee fans would prefer to have the championship instead of a few more wins from the local teams.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Video: Sesame Street Turns 40; Vince Carter & Grover; Harlem Globetrotter[J. Mark English]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Topps Ticket to Stardom Case Rip [J. Mark English]

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

West Pointers - ESPN Video [J. Mark English]

Some College Fooball Thoughts [J. Mark English]

On Notre Dame Fighting Irish - - Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun Times:

Evidently, being honest and forthright while answering questions is not something Notre Dame captains should do. If they puppet whatever coach Charlie Weis says, even if it's less than the full truth, they are leaders. If they say what really happened, what the opposing coach admits happened, they're not leadership material.

Notre Dame may be one of the prestigious private universities in the country, but football players are not allowed to express original thoughts -- or at least that was the message sent after another loss that ranks among the most embarrassing in school history.

This isn't a ''fire Charlie Weis'' column. I'm content to reserve judgment for a few more weeks. Personally, I think the Irish will upset No. 8 Pittsburgh on Saturday. Anybody who has followed Dave Wannstedt's career knows this is the type of game that his teams usually lose.

If nothing else, a win over Pittsburgh would mute the blue bloods who claim losing to Navy is ''unacceptable.'' What a joke. First of all, in case nobody has noticed, the Irish haven't contended for national titles lately. Secondly, if losing to the Midshipmen is ''beneath'' Notre Dame, why is Navy on the schedule?

But I digress.

What fries my egg more than any of Weis' on-field failures was what was said in the wake of the loss.

Let's start at the beginning.

Navy's triple-option offense racked up 257 rushing yards in a historic upset of Notre Dame two years ago. In last season's game, defensive coaches Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown devised a scheme that limited the nation's then-second-ranked rushing offense to 157 yards.

The Midshipmen ran wild for 348 yards in Saturday's win, after which Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said: ''I really hope this doesn't come across wrong, but I think the thing that helped us this year was last year. We knew that they'd line up the same way. We didn't execute very well last year. They did a great job against us last year defensively. So we had a pretty good clue that they were going to come back and do the same things.''

In other words, Niumatalolo assumed the Irish would defend his offense the same way as last season and made adjustments that allowed fullback Vince Murray to gallop through the Notre Dame secondary for 158 yards.

Weis prides himself on his ability to manipulate Xs and Os better than opposing defensive coordinators. Well, guess what? In this case, his defensive coordinators got out-schemed. There's no other way to explain it. Hey, it happens. It was logical for Weis and his staff to stick with what worked well the previous year. If they hadn't, Weis would've been ripped for ''out-thinking'' himself, which has been a frequent criticism.

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On the Iowa Hawkeyes - - Darren Everson and David Biderman of the Wall Street Journal:

Iowa's upset loss to Northwestern on Saturday didn't fundamentally change the college football season. The unbeaten triumvirate of No. 1 Florida, No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Alabama continues to steam toward the most predictable finish in years.

But here's what hasn't been said: Iowa's improbable winning streak, which had reached 13 games and taken them as high as No. 7 in the Associated Press poll and No. 4 in the BCS standings, was one of the most stunning—if not inspiring—stories in the recent history of college football.

In a day and age when star coaches at schools in the country's richest recruiting grounds have been hoarding the top talent, the Hawkeyes were an unlikely candidate to threaten them. The team has never won an outright national title, it's only had one marquee recruiting class in the past five years and was ranked No. 22 before this season. Even its coach, Kirk Ferentz, said he was surprised by its performance. "Realistically, I have a hard time even picturing us in the top 10," he said last month.

Yet the Hawkeyes started 9-0 this season and beat so many solid opponents that they were ranked No. 1 at one point by the computer polls. Even the loss to Northwestern wasn't an indictment—the Hawkeyes had opened up a lead in the game that collapsed only after junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi was forced out with an ankle injury.

What's remarkable about the Iowa program is its relative isolation. The ride to campus in Iowa City cuts through endless farmland. "I mean, a lot of corn on the drive up," says Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. The lack of population puts the team in a peculiar fix. Other top football schools fill their rosters with scholarship players from their home states—roughly 59% of Florida's recruits the past five years were from Florida, and a whopping 93% of Texas's were from the state, according to Rivals.com. The Hawkeyes have taken only 22% of their recruits over this period from Iowa, which is one of the smaller states to have a major-conference football program.

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Andre Agassi on CBS 60 Minutes [J. Mark English]

Video: Girls Gone Wild? [J. Mark English]

Friday, November 06, 2009

New York Yankees Day! [J. Mark English]


From Connor Ennis, of the New York Times:

Thousands of people streamed into Lower Manhattan on Friday to help the Yankees celebrate their 27th World Series championship with a ticker-tape parade.

It was the Yankees’ first return to the Canyon of Heroes since their last title, in 2000.

The parade started at 11 a.m. at Battery Park Place and finished roughly two hours later at City Hall Park, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg gave the team keys to the city.

For the Yankees and many of their fans, the parade was a long-awaited celebration, especially after the team’s success in the 1990s.

“It’s been too long, hasn’t it?” Derek Jeter said from the dais at City Hall. He was answered by loud cheers.

People began lining the streets early in the morning — with crowds as large as 20 people deep in some spots — and toilet paper and confetti littered the streets hours before the official festivities began. Construction workers took in the view while standing above the crowd on scaffolding.

Yogi Berra was among the participants, drawing cheers as he sat in a convertible that was near the lead of the parade. Mayor Bloomberg joined Manager Joe Girardi on the lead float, which also featured the World Series trophy.

The mayor’s office said that it expected anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million people to attend the parade. Performers like the cast of the Broadway hit “Jersey Boys” were scheduled to entertain the crowd at City Hall. It will be a rare day of celebration in an area of the city that has been severely affected by the economic downturn.

Hal Steinbrenner, the managing general partner of the Yankees, called it “a magical day.”

Public officials, both current (Senator Charles E. Schumer, Gov. David A. Paterson) and former (Mayors Edward I. Koch and Rudolph W. Giuliani), took part in the parade, while the hip-hop star Jay-Z stood next to Alex Rodriguez on one of the floats. He later performed his song “Empire State of Mind” on stage to conclude the ceremony.

One of those not in attendance was the Yankees’ principal owner, George Steinbrenner, who is in ill health.

“You think about the Boss,” the former Yankee Reggie Jackson said. “I wish he was here.”

Mayor Bloomberg presented Hal Steinbrenner with a key for his father, calling him “the biggest Yankee of them all.”

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Here is a look back at the first ticker tape parade ever:



Also, have you ever been curious as to how a ticker tape parade ever came to be?

Here is a bit from wikipedia:

A ticker-tape parade is a
parade event held in a downtown urban setting, allowing the jettison of large amounts of shredded paper products from nearby office buildings onto the parade route, creating a celebratory effect by the snowstorm-like flurry.

The term originated in New York City after a spontaneous celebration held on October 29, 1886 during the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, and is still most closely associated with New York City. The term ticker-tape originally referred to the use of the paper output of ticker tape machines, which were remotely-driven devices used in brokerages to provide updated stock market quotes. Nowadays, the paper products are largely waste office paper that have been cut using conventional paper shredders. The city also distributes paper confetti.[1]

In New York City, ticker-tape parades are reserved for special occasions. Soon after the first such parade in 1886, city officials realized the utility of such events and began to hold them on triumphal occasions, such as the return of Theodore Roosevelt from his African safari, and Charles Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight. Following World War II, several ticker tape parades were given in honor of victorious generals and admirals, including General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Admiral Chester Nimitz. The largest was given for World War II and Korean War General Douglas MacArthur in 1951.

Through the 1950s, ticker-tape parades were commonly given to any visiting head of state, such as Habib Bourguiba representing the fight over colonialism. In the 1960s, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, they became increasingly rare.

They are generally reserved now for space exploration triumphs, military honors and sports championships. The section of lower Broadway through the Financial District that serves as the parade route for these events is colloquially called the "Canyon of Heroes". Lower Broadway in New York City has plaques in the sidewalk at regular intervals to celebrate each of the city's ticker-tape parades.

Many famous ticker tape parade celebrate sporting events such the Giants winning the Super Bowl in 2008 and the Yankees winning the World Series in 2009


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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Video and Photos: New York Yankees Win 27th Championship [J. Mark English]

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

NFL Fanhouse: America's Team? It's the Saints Now [Terence Moore]

From Terence Moore of NFL Fanhouse:

Go ahead, because this is the right thing to do: You should spend the rest of the NFL season hugging whatever team you traditionally love, but you should kiss the New Orleans Saints in the shadows.

If you prefer to do so in the sunshine, that's fine, too.

The Saints have replaced the folks with stars on their helmets as America's Team. In case you weren't paying attention, Hurricane Katrina blew this franchise into the hearts of all those who had them. That unofficially happened on Sept. 25, 2006, the team's first home game back in New Orleans -- a Monday night when, just like this Monday night, the roof of the Superdome threatened to explode because of the noise generated by inside, as opposed to the wind outside it.

A game that was also against the Falcons. And that, too, was a victory for the Saints, along the way to their first and only NFC championship game.

Get the picture in black, old gold and white? When you cheer for the Saints, you're still cheering for this city, which has come a long ways since water nearly drowned its existence, but it remains a sometimes-ugly work in progress.

So the majority of the citizens do what they've done forever in New Orleans -- and that is, they live through their NFL franchise. Well, they mostly die with it. But after decades of gasping, it has a strong heartbeat seven games into this season.

In fact, given the Saints' rise to an unblemished record after a 35-27 victory over Atlanta, with the home team excelling before a deliriously loud gathering screaming "Who dat?," and with all of those watching on national television still recalling the death, destruction and despair that smothered these parts four years ago after that hurricane ...

Given all of that ...

Well, who knows what this team might accomplish this season?

Yeah, we know. These are the Saints. A gifted bunch of Saints, with explosive players throughout their offense and with a defense that terrorizes foes at crucial times, but the Saints nonetheless. In the end, they'll likely continue to sit with the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Detroit Lions as the only NFL teams never to reach a Super Bowl.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't pull for the Saints, because they are playing another season for themselves and everybody else.

Aren't they?

"I don't know. I mean, we're always playing for the city, because our fans are so great," said Saints safety Darren Sharper, in his 13th NFL season. Then he added, "A couple of years ago, it was a different situation, especially coming off of Katrina. There was a lot more emotion into it back then, but now, we're just trying to win."

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2009 World Series: Various Perspectives Following Game Five [J. Mark English]

  • Bob Ford, Philadelphia Inquirer: Now comes the hard part....Monday night's World Series win over the New York Yankees was hardly a sure thing, but it was the surest card the Phillies had in their hand as they attempt to play their way out of the deep hole they dug in the first four games of the series....Cliff Lee settled down after a shaky first inning, got some run support and was able to pitch aggressively against the Yankees. The only reliable starter left in the makeshift rotation wasn't as sharp as he was in the opener, but he didn't have to be. New York hasn't been able to hit him consistently, but, in all likelihood, won't get a chance to prove that again....Whatever carryover momentum they hope to take with them will become moot at approximately 8 p.m. tomorrow night when Game 6 begins. After that, it's all up to the starting pitchers to provide the advantages and disadvantages. The Phillies will feel a little better about their chances (having awakened still having some), but everything that follows rides on what they can get from Pedro Martinez in the first game back in Yankee Stadium and whatever mix-and-match special Charlie Manuel dials up for Game 7.
  • Harvey Araton, New York Times: Aided by his bat and an astute apology, Alex Rodriguez is ending the baseball season not as a former steroids user but as a home run hero. In the process, he may be clearing a path forward for himself and his much-maligned sport...This may go down as the season that the fans forgave baseball — or perhaps just grew tired of worrying about performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte, two high-profile Yankees stars who were exposed as past users, are shining in the 2009 World Series....Until recently, players accused of cheating selected from two popular options: vehemently deny, as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have chosen, or remain silent, as McGwire has. But beginning with the admission last season by Pettitte that he had used human growth hormone, a third option has emerged: quickly apologize and move on....“Obviously, success on the field has helped, but isn’t it something how they beautifully and effectively transcended their humiliation?” said Richard Emery, one of the lawyers representing Brian McNamee, the physical trainer who cited Pettitte and Clemens in George J. Mitchell’s investigation into steroids for Major League Baseball.
  • Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated: The biggest catchphrase in this World Series, besides instant replay of course, is short rest. Who's getting it? Who's giving it? Who's refusing it? Charlie Manuel did not ask Cliff Lee to pitch on short rest in Game 4 and the Phillies lost. Joe Girardi did ask A.J. Burnett to pitch on short rest in Game 5 and the Yankees lost. Both managers exposed themselves to criticism even though they made exact opposite moves...The problem was not with their decision-making. It was with their reluctance to reverse those decisions when the circumstances changed. After the Phillies lost Game 3, they had to win Game 4 to stay afloat, but Manuel still stuck with Joe Blanton over Lee. After the Yankees took Game 4, they no longer needed Game 5, but Girardi still went with Burnett on three days rest. It was the bold call, an attempt to press the action and ride the momentum, but given the Yankees 3-1 lead, it was completely unnecessary....In their haste to close the door on the Phillies, the Yankees have left it cracked. Burnett gave up six runs in two innings Monday night, making the case against short rest in an 8-6 loss. Now the Yankees will likely ask Pettittte to do what Burnett could not. While Burnett is in his prime, Pettitte is 37, has not pitched on short rest in three years, and is 4-6 with a 4.15 earned run average when he has tried it in the regular season...The Yankees are gambling heavily in a series that should have been a sure thing. If Pettitte falters in Game 6 on Wednesday against Pedro Martinez -- yes, the self-proclaimed "old goat" is back -- the Yankees will still have Sabathia for Game 7. Sabathia is more comfortable than most on short rest, but even he was not as dominant as usual Sunday night, giving up three runs in 6 1/3 innings. Short rest takes a toll on everyone.

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Video: NY vs. Philly - - Clash of the Cretins [J. Mark English]

Video: WS Game Five - Phillies Bring it Back to the Bronx [J. Mark English]

Sunday, November 01, 2009

NBA: Some Wild Predictions [David Stefanini]

After a very long off season, basketball is finally back. Does anyone other than me care? Probably not, but I'm still going to throw out a few predictions:
Dwayne Wade is going to win the MVP.
Blake Griffin is not good. Just like Greg Oden he will be a complete bust.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will make the playoffs this year.
The Chicago Bulls will win more games than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Knicks will win less than 25 games.
The Knicks will not get LeBron this upcoming off season.
The Boston Celtics will win the Eastern Conference Finals, beating the Miami Heat in 6 games.
The Los Angeles Lakers will win the Western Conference Finals, beating the Dallas Mavericks in 5 games.
The Lakers will win the NBA Finals after beating the Celtics in 7 games.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Baseball Defies Predictions of Doom [Art Spander]

Art Spander of Real Clear Sports: 

The game died years ago. Isn't that what we were told? Baseball was the echo of another time, men in baggy flannel standing around while the world sped past.
It didn't work on television, trying to cram that huge expanse onto a small screen. And kids who weren't playing video games supposedly were playing soccer, on baseball fields.
But here are the Yankees and Phillies going at it in this World Series in October 2009 as they did in the World Series in October 1950, and Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard are being given space in the sports pages equal that of Brett Favre journeying back to Green Bay.
Sure it's because of the Yankees, the most famous sporting franchise in North America, a team of wealth, pinstripes and history. The Yanks cannot be ignored. Nor, with this World Series, can baseball.
They had a 13.8 overnight Nielsen rating for Game 1, NFL type numbers, and presumably the figures will be about the same for Game 2, when the Yankees, hailed and hated, tied things up.
Baseball. "You win with pitching,'' said New York's Derek Jeter after the Yankees beat Philly, 3-1, Thursday in Game 2. Always will win with pitching.
The Phils took the first game, 6-1. Always have won with pitching.
Baseball. "Ninety feet between bases,'' wrote the late Red Smith, "is the closest man has ever come to perfection.''
Baseball, a game of axioms and survival. Despite the Black Sox scandal, despite the shutdowns and strikes, despite the despair over steroids, the sport keeps staggering on.
Gene Mauch, known infamously as the manager of the 1964 Phillies, who leading by 6 ½ games in September lost 10 in a row, told us, "Cockroaches and baseball keep coming back.''
And so baseball has returned in all its glory, old and new.
Hypnotic tedium was a description of baseball by Philip Roth, whose canon of work includes "The Great American Novel,'' dealing with the fortunes of a homeless baseball team. But Roth said not until he got to Harvard did he "find anything with a comparable emotional atmosphere and aesthetic appeal.'' Baseball was "the literature of my boyhood.''
The essence of baseball is cumulative tension. Each pitch adds to the question, the doubt. Does Cliff Lee go inside or outside to Jorge Posada? Does A.J. Burnett throw curves or fast balls to Chase Utley?
It's cold in the east. The games start too late - although not as late as past years - and go on forever. But New York and Philly are enthralled. So is much of America.
Baseball is the only team sport not played against a clock. It's the only team sport where a manager hikes to the mound to stall for time, where an argument with an official is not only accepted it's expected - even if never without positive results - where fans, like Jeffrey Mayer and Steve Bartman, may affect the outcome.
Baseball requires patience and persistence. The most famous cry is not "Play ball'' but "Wait ‘til next year.''
The Yankees have been waiting for some time. The Phillies, on the contrary, are trying to win a second straight championship, and you only wish the late James Michener, who authored dozens of books, could be around.
Michener once wrote a New York Times piece about his flawed love of the Phillies, which began in 1915 when he was 8-years-old and continued until his death in 1997. "Year after year,'' Michener conceded, "they wallowed in last place.''
A young literary critic confronted Michener and pointed out, "You seem to be optimistic about the human race. Don't you have a sense of tragedy?''
He answered, "Young man, when you root for the Phillies, you acquire a sense of tragedy."
The Phillies are no longer tragic. They are involved in a World Series destined to go no fewer than five games and maybe with luck six or seven.
The Yankees have the prestige and the bullpen. The Phillies have a high degree of self confidence. Baseball has an attraction involving two of the country's more passionate sporting cities which happen to be located 100 miles apart.
Out West they wanted the Dodgers against the Angels, but truth tell this one is better, a team not many people other than baseball purists really know, the Phillies, and a team which because of its $200 million payroll and stars even the non-fan knows, those Damn Yankees.
And remember, you win with pitching.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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Video: World Series, Game 2 Highlights [J. Mark English]

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Video: Crazy Amateur Highlights [J. Mark English]

Are the Phillies Blowing It By Starting Pedro Tonight? [Tim Joyce]

Tim Joyce of Real Clear Sports:

Pedro Martinez, tonight's starter in game two of the World Series, played the lead role, with a supporting part from Grady Little, in the third most disastrous moment in Red Sox history when he blew a 5-2 lead late in the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship at Yankee Stadium before Aaron Boone's infamous upper deck shot (the top two most crushing Red Sox moments were the loss in game six against the Mets in the 1986 World Series and the Bucky F'ing Dent homerun in 1978). One has to wonder whether the memory of that moment is still all too close for the formerly brilliant pitcher.

More to the point, are the Phillies blowing any chance of taking a commanding two-games-to-none lead against the Yankees by starting Pedro against the team he admittedly had epic problems pitching against? A team he famously declared was "his Daddy." The diminutive pitcher is 1-2 with a 4.72 ERA in six postseason appearances against his hated rivals.

This much is certain: Pedro, though an effective pitcher and an important late season addition to the Phillies when he won five of six starts, he even in fact won his last start at Yankee Stadium while a Met in 2005, is nowhere near the peerless, intimidating Hall of Fame hurler he was from the late 1990's until 2002. He is several years past his prime and will face a fierce, patient and vicious Yankee offense that will be looking to break out after being utterly dominated by the suddenly unhittable southpaw Cliff Lee in game one.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is an eminently likeable, elder statesmen figure and has proven to be the perfect fit for his team of multifarious talents. In fact he is their Joe Torre, with his calm but intense demeanor, absolute loyalty to his players and his reliance on instinct over stats to enforce his managerial will on a game. But it seems to me that Manuel is injecting a most unwanted element of emotional confusion and drama into tonight's game by starting Pedro. I find it borderline masochistic. And it may prove to be the misstep that causes the Phillies a chance to score a decided upset and beat the Yankees in the series.

It is clear that Manuel has other options for tonight's game.

Why not go with Cole Hamels tonight and save Martinez for game three in Philly? After all, this would give Philadelphia two consecutive starts with lefthanders against the vaunted Yankee power. The formula for beating the Yankees hasn't really changed that much since Babe Ruth - start lefties against them at Yankee Stadium. Cliff Lee, with his pinpoint variety of pitches that left the Yankees flailing last night is Exhibit A. Granted, Hamels has been hit fairly hard in his three postseason starts thus far but his control has been superb and he's been striking out nearly a batter per inning. And though he's only pitched twice against the Yankees, he does have a 2.77 ERA in those games....

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Congressman Steve King Grills NFL Commish over Rush Limbaugh [J. Mark English]

WS Game 1: Cliff Lee Dazzles; Rollins Spot On [J. Mark English]

Following last nights dazzling performance by Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies, I offer up a reactions from journalists of both cities:

Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer: Cliff Lee is the coolest man in baseball.

There he was, pitching in the first World Series game of his life, and the first ever at the new Yankee Stadium. Derek Jeter, a future Hall of Famer who has played nearly a full season's worth of October games, slapped a base hit up the middle in the bottom of the sixth, the Phillies ahead by two runs. Fifty thousand New York fans leaned forward, eager for the Yankees rally that was sure to follow.

How many times had it started this way, with Jeter finding his way on base and his teammates taking some poor pitcher apart?

So here was Johnny Damon, as capable of tying the game with a home run as hitting behind Jeter and getting the rally going. Ball one. Ball two. A hitter's count. Damon fouled off a pitch, took a called strike. Another foul, then another.

Lee, working fast as always, fired the 2-2 pitch and Damon swung. The ball ticked off the handle of the bat and arced back toward Lee, a little pop-up.

And Cliff Lee, the coolest man in baseball, held his glove waist-high and let the ball drop into it. He caught it as casually as if he were getting a new baseball from the plate umpire, then cracked his gum for punctuation.

"I caught it, he was out," Lee said with a grin. "To be successful at this level, you've got to be confident. You've got to go out there and believe you're going to get everybody out. I try not to go over the edge and rub things in and be cocky."

Oh, and then he got Mark Teixeira and his $180 million bat to ground out weakly to second base. End of another inning, easy as you please.

The Phillies won Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, beating the mighty Yankees' hefty lefty ace and seizing homefield advantage. And they were able to do it because Lee pitched the toughest lineup in Major League Baseball like he was working a B game in spring training.



William C. Rhoden of the New York Times: Jorge Posada was stoic Tuesday afternoon as reporters flocked around, eagerly awaiting a response to the first salvo of World Series trash talk.

The catalyst was — surprise — Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies’ lightning-rod shortstop. On the “Jay Leno Show,” of all places, Rollins had predicted that Philadelphia would do more than defeat the Yankees in the Series, which began Wednesday night. He said that the Phillies would emphatically roll right over the Bronx Bombers, and they started out with a 6-1 victory in Game 1.

“Of course we’re going to win,” Rollins told Leno. Then, as if to make sure he had created a stir, Rollins added: “If we’re nice, we’ll let it go six. But I’m thinking five. Close it out at home.”

Rollins’s comments predictably set off a knee-jerk reaction around New York on Tuesday and created a distraction on a rain-soaked workout day for both teams. In the past, Rollins made extemporaneous predictions in his clubhouse or on the field. In this instance, Leno gave Rollins a grander, more calculated stage on which to be provocative. The talk show host cast the bait, and Rollins happily took it, which leads to legitimate questions as to whether Rollins really believed what he said or was just going Hollywood.

Or maybe he was really trying to get inside the Yankees’ head. “He’s been Nostradamus, that’s what I heard,” Posada said. “So we’ve got to take that away from him.”...

....But in Game 1 on Wednesday night, Rollins was more quiet than he was with Leno until the eighth inning, when he started a two-run rally with a walk and a stolen base. In the ninth, he added an infield single and scored. And Howard was right: the crowd booed Rollins loudly.

What was interesting about his latest prediction is that some Yankees fans reacted indignantly. It’s almost as though this is 2000 and the Yankees are the defending champions and the Phillies are The Little Engine That Could facing the Yankees’ mighty freight train.

In fact, the Yankees do not even have quite the home-field advantage they used to enjoy. Although the Yankees were 57-24 in their first season in the new Yankee Stadium, it is not the intimidating place that the old one was, where so many visiting teams got the shakes. This new stadium has no memories yet, no haunting veneer. It is a flashy billion-dollar building waiting for its first championship.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some Final Thoughts on the World Series [J. Mark English]

Here are what some of the writers are saying around the internet before the 'wild rumpus starts':
  • Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post: When the World Series starts Wednesday, the proud, confident defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies will face the New York Yankees, baseball's biggest chokers for the last eight years. What happened? Did these two cities, after a century, decide to swap identities? Live long enough, you really will see everything....Go to Philadelphia this month and you'll see stories about how the Phillies have reversed the town's ancient inferiority complex about its pro sports teams. You are no longer a sucker if you dare to believe in a Philly team's chance for a positively ridiculous comeback win. It's now the Phillies' trademark, especially in the playoffs. Ask the Rockies and Dodgers. Both are still numb. Go to New York this month and you are met by the opposite mood. Before Game 6 of the ALCS against the Angels, a Page 1 tabloid headline on the Yankees blared, "We Ain't Chokin'.
  • Christina Red of the New York Daily News: By the time Ryan Howard was drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round in June 2001, Alex Rodriguez was two months into his record $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, already a bona fide star with several playoff trips under his belt with the Mariners. When the lefty-hitting Howard made his major league debut at home against the Braves three years later - Sept. 1, 2004 - it was an inauspicious outing. Pinch-hitting for pitcher Vicente Padilla, Howard struck out looking against Jaret Wright. Rodriguez was by then five months into his debut season in pinstripes, the star Yankee third baseman on a team littered with All-Stars. A-Rod already had one MVP award (2003), and was en route to a historic playoff series against the Red Sox.
  • Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated: Someone once asked Fred Zinnemann, the director, what a certain famous movie star was like. "What makes you think," Zinnemann replied, "that she's like anything?" In the same way, the more we learned about Alex Rodriguez, the more I've always asked myself: is he like anything? Ever? Certainly there's never been anyone quite like him in sports -- the best at his game, the world at his feet ... but yet, also incorporated within such majesty: insecurity ... jealousy ... and untrustworthiness. He could be so gauche he could make you cringe. Remember the magazine photograph of A-Rod kissing himself in the mirror? Good grief, even Narcissus was content merely to stare at his own reflection.
  • Tim Marchman of Slate.com: To play in the NFL, you have to make a show of going to college. To play in the NBA, you have to get through high school. To sign a contract with a major league baseball team, all you have to do is convince someone you're 16, provided you weren't born in a country with inconvenient labor laws....Perhaps this goes some way toward explaining both the high reverence in which the intellectual is held in baseball and the low standards necessary to qualify as one. Mike Mussina's crossword puzzle habit was the telling detail that led a thousand profiles during his long career, limning him as a man apart from the rabble surrounding him in the clubhouse. The Chicago Cubs alone have multiple lousy relievers suspected of harboring deep thoughts because they went to Notre Dame. And Tony La Russa leveraged a never-used J.D. from Florida State University into book-length fawning from both George Will and Buzz Bissinger....Yankees manager Joe Girardi fits neatly in this line. If you don't know that he has an engineering degree from Northwestern, a team broadcaster will be happy to tell you. Often caught by television cameras modeling taciturn expressions while consulting thick binders full of arcane statistics, Girardi looks like an engineer, runs a game like one, and even talks like one. (How are the playoffs different from the regular season, Joe? "You have your parts, and you understand what you need to do with your parts, and you just go from there.") And in this year's playoffs, Girardi has done a fantastic job illustrating why baseball is a game for delinquents, not engineers.
  • Kristen A. Graham and Jeff Gammage of the Philadelphia Inquirer: On a stool at the Yankee Tavern, tucked under the subway tracks a block from Yankee Stadium, Steve LoPresti was the portrait of a lifelong Yankees fan..."You have two world championships," LoPresti lectured a visitor from Philadelphia. "It took you a hundred years to win the first. We only have 26."...See why Phillies fans love these guys?...And why local fans say that while it was fun to whip Tampa Bay in last year's World Series, this year's matchup offers a rare opportunity:...A chance for Philadelphia to put a beatdown on its northern big brother - on the city that thinks it stands at the center of the known universe, on the team that epitomizes arrogance, overspending and entitlement...."I hate that team. I hate 'em!" said Anthony Longo, who works at Harry Ochs Meats at the Reading Terminal Market....New York is Alex Rodriguez dating Kate Hudson, hounded by paparazzi. Philadelphia is Chase Utley marrying Jennifer Cooper, caring for hounds. New York is over-the-top George Steinbrenner. Philadelphia is under-the-radar David Montgomery....The Yankees have loads of history and tradition and championships....The Phillies have loads of history and tradition...."It seems like they have more of everything than we do," said Temple University assistant professor Emily Sparvero, who studies the business of sports. "They have the bigger media market. They have the new billion-dollar stadium. They have the stars in the stands."

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Photos: Warming up Before Game One [J. Mark English]

Humor of the Day 10.28.09 [J. Mark English]

2009 World Series: Around the Tube! [J. Mark English]

Most Exciting Series in a Generation? [J. Mark English]

Jeff Neuman of Real Clear Sports ponders if this World Series match up could be the best in a generation:

Twelve months ago, the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series. Two months later, after committing a tidy $423 million to three players - on top of the gazillions already earmarked for Alex Rodriguez and sure to go to Derek Jeter - the New York Yankees became the prohibitive favorite to take the title in 2009. The two will meet beginning Wednesday night - weather permitting, two words that will be repeated often in the days to come - in what should be the most exciting World Series in a generation.

The two teams are extremely well matched. Both have potent and deep lineups that can generate multi-run innings from any spot in the order. Both led their leagues in runs, home runs, and slugging; had four players score at least 100 runs; and were extremely effective base-stealers as well (the Phillies stole at an 81.0% rate, best in baseball; the Yankees were second in their league and third in the majors at 79.9%). Both play in parks that favor the offense - though the Phillies actually hit more homers on the road than at home.

Both pitching staffs, on current form, have one dependable ace, two good and sometimes great starters, and a wealth of good arms in long relief and set-up roles. The closers are another story. Brad Lidge was perfect last season (48 for 48 in saves), dreadful in the '09 regular season (7.21 ERA, 11 blown saves), but has a 0.00 ERA in five postseason games this year. Mariano Rivera is Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees are... famous. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte - the names are familiar to anyone who's followed the game over the last two decades. This year's team -- enlivened by the addition of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Nick Swisher, bolstered by the offensive and defensive presence of Mark Teixeira -- has played with a looseness and joy absent from the Bronx since, oh, forever. Jeter at 35 has had a season straight out of his younger prime. A-Rod, shaken by scandal in the spring, has played as though free from the burden of being the team's focus in this postseason. Teixeira's playoff doldrums are unlikely to continue much longer; he did lead the AL in homers and RBIs this year.

The Phillies, the defending champs, are in the unusual position of being the team with more to prove, since the Yankees were all but conceded the title as soon as they spent their megamillions. Philadelphia's lineup is the equal of the Yanks': Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Chase Utley, and Raul Ibanez each topped 30 homers; Howard led the league against with 141 RBIs; Shane Victorino had a quietly effective season; and while Jimmy Rollins struggled, he can be an important spark at the top of the lineup in a short series. How is the Yankees outfield of Damon, Cabrera, and Swisher superior to the Phils' Ibanez, Victorino, and Werth? The Phillies ranked fourth in the majors in runs -- ahead of eleven teams that had the advantage of using DHs.

The Series, as it generally does, will come down to pitching. The rotations are anchored by the recent prides of Cleveland, C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee. Sabathia has been terrific in the postseason, but so has Lee; the Cliff Lee of 2008-9 has pitched well against the Yankees (2-1, 1.89), while Sabathia in the same period has struggled against the Phils (0-2, 6.17). A.J. Burnett has never been a consistent pitcher, is averaging five walks per nine innings in the postseason, and Philadelphia has generally done well against him (5-8, 4.75 for his career). And for all of Andy Pettitte's reputation as a big-game pitcher, he has a losing record in the World Series (3-4).

Against the latter two, the Phillies will match up Pedro Martinez, a sure Hall of Famer who was brilliant against the Dodgers in the NLCS (and has long relished pitching against the Yankees), and Cole Hamels, last year's World Series MVP who is dominant when healthy. Is it at all unlikely that the Phils can get two top-notch starts out of Lee, and one of two each from Pedro and Hamels? The Phillies' long relievers, who should include rookie starter J.A. Happ for the Series, are less heralded than the Yankees' pair of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, but those two have looked nothing like their reputations lately (Joba's ERA since September 1 is 6.33; Hughes's ERA this postseason is 5.78, and he's allowed at least one hit in every outing). Which leaves only the closers: Can Lidge show some semblance of his 2008 form? Will Mariano Rivera, a month from his fortieth birthday, show imperfection at last?

Neither team is just happy to be there. The stage is set for seven explosive, tension-filled games. Phillies in seven.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The NBA: Where Frugal Happens [David Biderman]

Like a lot of NBA executives, Fred Whitfield, the president and chief operating officer of the Charlotte Bobcats, has been looking for creative ways to save money in a slouching economy.

So during halftime this season, don't expect to see one of those national traveling acts that cost up to $15,000 per game. For about a dozen games this year, Mr. Whitfield has enlisted the Junior Bobcats—a group of youth basketball players who are mostly 8 to 12 years old—to entertain the fans. The kids work pro bono, he says, and as a bonus, their parents usually buy tickets to see them perform. "It saves money and drives in revenue," Mr. Whitfield says.

Ever since NBA commissioner David Stern announced in July that more than half of the NBA's 30 franchises lost money last season—and recently said overall league revenue is expected to fall by as much as 5% this season—NBA teams have been trying to unwind some of their operations for the first time since the 1980s.

Most of these cuts, like the Bobcats' halftime budget, will be cosmetic: The Cleveland Cavaliers will save $40,000 by switching from paper Christmas cards to electronic ones, while the Denver Nuggets have eliminated free cellphone texting for employees. The Memphis Grizzlies say they'll save $50,000 by upgrading existing computers rather than buying new ones. "Our philosophy: lean and mean," says team executive Greg Campbell.

But behind all the small cutbacks, NBA teams are making a few adjustments this season, which begins Tuesday, that could impact the quality of play—if not the final standings. Some teams have reduced the number of assistant coaches from five to three. The New Jersey Nets grounded their advance scouts, who used to travel to watch the team's upcoming opponents, while the Grizzlies eliminated the entire scouting department. The Miami Heat asked everyone on its basketball-operations staff, including its coach, to take up to a 20% pay cut.

Meanwhile, several teams plan to reduce their rosters to 13 or 14 players from the usual 15—a maneuver that will save around $1 million per team, but could start to take a toll in March when teams start to fatigue. "Now it'll be harder to get your key players time off," says Bob Whitsitt, a former team president and GM. Former Denver coach Doug Moe says smaller rosters will remove some of the wiggle room coaches have to teach innovative plays and concepts. "More players meant more progress," he says. "It'll be harder now."

It's been a long time since the NBA had to deal with a recession. Before this downturn, the league had seen steady, and even strong, growth almost every year since 1984. But this season, the league's salary cap, which is tied in part to revenue, shrank. It stands at $57.7 million–about $1 million less than last year—and is expected to fall by up to another $5 million next year.

In the past 12 months, the Bobcats, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are among several teams that have had layoffs, in some cases nearly 40 people. The NBA itself eliminated about 80 jobs before the start of last season, about 9% of its work force. The league also closed its Los Angeles office. "We know that we'll be challenged by the economy," Mr. Stern said in a recent conference call.

Some NBA insiders say they're not too concerned about these changes—which, they say, are mostly nipping at the margins. When it comes to things like assistant coaches, Jerry West, the Hall of Fame guard and former Memphis Grizzlies general manager, says there's been a hiring bloat in most franchises. "You look at all those assistants and say, 'My god, what's the point of all those guys?' "

Indeed, some of these cuts are really just steps toward efficiency. Rather than hire a bunch of no-name players over the summer to help give their recent draft picks some seasoning, the Bobcats instead shipped Gerald Henderson to Minnesota and Derrick Brown to Utah, where they played with rookies from other teams. And instead of spending thousands to fly each college prospect out for a couple of nights, teams decided to join forces for cattle calls.

At one mass audition in June hosted by the Nets, some 20 teams sent scouts. The event took place at the Nets' practice facility, where groups of at least six players would work out together in morning and night sessions over three days. The would-be stars grunted through one-on-one games and speed, strength and shooting drills. For the games, the scouts wanted to see players of the same position match up against one another. "We'd scrounge up whoever showed up to try to make it right," a Nets spokesman says.

By splitting the cost with about 20 other teams, the Nets ended up paying about $2,000 for an event that would have normally cost six figures.

"Given the economy, they can't fly all these guys out anymore," says NBA agent Sam Goldfeder.

The Nuggets are promoting a digital ticketing system where buyers never actually see a printed ticket. They say it could save six figures once all their fans are on board. The Orlando Magic is cutting the holiday party.

In Detroit, a city hard hit by the recession, the Pistons made a painful, if necessary, decision. A few years ago, the team delivered season tickets that were wrapped in leather portfolios that played music when they were opened. In other seasons, they'd come with trading cards, T-shirts and coupons. "They were the size of Monopoly box," says team president Tom Wilson.

This year, he says, tickets were shipped in a drab cardboard box—a move that saved close to $100,000. So far, he says, only one fan has complained. "I ask, 'What do you want instead? Higher ticket prices?' "

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