Tuesday, June 30, 2009
U.S. Soccer Still Waiting for its Moment [J. Mark English]
This is the epitaph in the wake of a heartbreaking loss in Sunday’s Confederations Cup championship game.
Too harsh? Perhaps, considering the United States was facing a great Brazilian team. On the other hand, there must come a point in the discussion of soccer in the United States when the training wheels must be removed. Either this is youth soccer, in which the goal is to let everyone play, or this is the big time, in which second or third place is no longer acceptable.
There was so much momentum heading into Sunday’s game, so much enthusiasm after the United States’ stunning victory over Spain on Wednesday.
That victory became the talk from Johannesburg to New York.
Over coffee one morning, Irv Smalls, the executive director of Harlem Youth Soccer, spoke about the implications of a strong showing by the United States on the continuing initiative to bring soccer to the underserved.
“It definitely will get kids excited,” said Smalls, a former Penn State football player.
Speaking from Johannesburg before Sunday’s match, Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, cautioned against placing too much weight on one result.
At the same time, Gulati conceded that back-to-back, high-profile victories over Spain and Brazil in the Confederations Cup would give a much-needed jolt to a sport that continues to make inroads in the minds and hearts of the American audience.
...The United States carried a 2-0 lead over Brazil into halftime Sunday, and suddenly, a universe of possibilities emerged. This was the great American sports story. Finally, a breakthrough on the international championship stage. Finally, long-sought respect for United States soccer.
Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer, spoke of the United States’ victory over Spain and reaching the championship game.
“We’ve always believed we deserved more respect than we receive,” he said. “In sports, you’ve got to earn respect, you can’t just ask for it, and we’ve earned some respect this past week.”
....American soccer’s struggle to attract great talent is baffling because there are so many young people looking for something to do. The United States is one of the most powerful nations, one with phenomenal human resources.
The sprawling soccer federations reflect the nation: some have a lot, some have very little. The leadership must find the will — and a way — to redistribute resources. This is crucial for the long-term goal of having a great national team, year in and year out.
The more difficult challenge is to cultivate a broader consumer appetite for soccer in the United States. Debates continue about changing the nature of the sport to fit the American mind-set.
Soccer does not need to be dumbed down to accommodate our Twittered attention span. The sport does not need more scoring or more commercial timeouts.
Wimbledon Cover Up: Dinara Safina Wins Indoor Match [J. Mark English]
There had already been thousands of points played at Wimbledon this year — millions more played through the years — but the point played on Centre Court by Dinara Safina and Amélie Mauresmo at 5:19 p.m. on Monday was unlike any that had come before it...
...It was not the pattern that made it unique: Mauresmo served and rushed the net, then hit a half volley, which Safina tracked down and smacked for a winner with a backhand passing shot down the line. What made it historic was the closed roof overhead. After nearly 90 years of rain delays on Centre Court, which was built in 1922, Wimbledon has finally created a way to keep the tennis coming.
And after a dry first week that had raised questions about whether the All England Club was going to start getting its big money’s worth, a light passage of rain gave the organizers an opening to start closing their expensive new toy: a 1,000-ton retractable structure with white trusses and flexible translucent panels.
It was not an obligatory move. Play soon resumed on the outside courts and the sun soon resumed shining. But the crowd at Centre Court, now part of tennis history itself, certainly appreciated the tournament referee Andrew Jarrett’s eagerness, roaring as the two halves of the roof began to move, then roaring again as they finally came together shortly before 5 p.m.
“Considering the English weather, I’m surprised it took them 87 years,” said Jonathan Spearing, a 31-year-old lawyer from London.
Flip Flop Fly Ball - A Great Site [J. Mark English]
One section of the site has a series of graphs (including the one below).
But they have many others. This graph compares the height of the Green Monster to height of monuments such as the Statue of Liberty and the Iwo Jima.
The other graphs are just as interesting.
Graph: Dismantingly the 1986 World Champs - New York Mets [J. Mark English]
Friday, June 26, 2009
Michael Jackson at the Super Bowl [J. Mark English]
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Star Athletes Fizzle on the Way Out the Door [J. Mark English]
Brad Childress has warned everyone to “stay tuned” and Brett Favre, who hates even the thought of surgery, has submitted to an operation on his sore shoulder...
...If you must worry about something, worry about whether Favre is overstaying his welcome as a football player. He will turn 40 in October and wouldn’t be the first iconic athlete to hang on long after the skills that made him great have faded away....
...Indeed, for every superstar who exits on his own terms — Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Sandy Koufax come to mind — there are a dozen who don’t know when to quit. Usually, they end up playing in some strange city and looking very old while doing it....
....Yes, Favre’s annual waffling on retirement has grown old. But those who accuse Favre of being a hopeless diva must have forgotten that Denver’s John Elway, the poster boy for going out on top, didn’t make up his mind to return until June after winning his first Super Bowl at age 37. Even after winning a second Super Bowl, Elway kept the Broncos in suspense until May before announcing his retirement.
Even Reggie White once retired for 48 hours when he was with the Packers. White later retired “for good,” then came back after a one-year absence for an embarrassing five-sack season with the Carolina Panthers.
At least Elway went out a winner. Many others were a pitiful shell of themselves while trying to milk another season or two out of their Hall of Fame careers.
No one who saw it can forget the image of Hank Aaron batting .232 in two seasons as an overweight, 40-something designated hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers. Or Willie Mays, the greatest center fielder ever, dropping fly balls in his 40s with the New York Mets. And did you know that a 40-year-old Babe Ruth hit .181 playing for the Boston Braves?
Come to think of it, did anyone like seeing Magic Johnson as a backup power forward when he returned to the NBA at 36 after a five-year absence? And though Michael Jordan was still a decent enough player, there was no joy in watching his two-year comeback with a Washington Wizards team that had no hope of making the playoffs.
Nothing was more painful than watching the NFL’s ultimate winner, Johnny Unitas, throw three touchdown passes and seven interceptions in five games with the San Diego Chargers. Ditto for Joe Namath, who had three touchdown passes and five interceptions in four games as a creaky-kneed starter for the Los Angeles Rams.
And surely Packers fans haven’t forgotten Bart Starr’s final two limp-armed seasons, when he thew eight touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. Even Fran Tarkenton, who seems to know more about Favre’s intentions than Favre, threw 32 interceptions for the Vikings at age 38.
It’s not just quarterbacks, either. It was no fun watching O.J. Simpson average 3.8 yards per carry for the 2-14 San Francisco 49ers in 1979. And when all-time receptions leader Jerry Rice, then 42, went from Oakland to Seattle in a mid-season trade, few people even noticed.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Chart of the Day: Danger in Drafting Big White Men? [J. Mark English]
Sports Writers Fix 6.23.09 [J. Mark English]
- Richard Justice with SportsJustice: "It was just after dawn on clear, cool Manhattan morning in 1990 when I first heard Donald Fehr speak of retirement...Baseball's average salary rose from $289,000 to $2.9 million during Fehr's 26 years atop the Major League Players Association. In terms of benefits, health care and pension, no union ever took better care of its people....Every player owes Donald Fehr half his 2009 salary. At least. Baseball players have had it so good for so long that they've forgotten what it was once like."
- Gregg Doyel with CBS Sports: "When union boss Donald Fehr leaves the players association in March, he will take with him the last link to the worst person to happen to baseball...He ruined the economics of baseball. Not just the competition on the field, although he did ruin that. Fehr took over in 1983 -- and for kicks, look at the teams who won the World Series in the previous decade. From 1971-80, seven of the 10 champions came from so-called small markets: Oakland (three), Cincinnati (two) and Pittsburgh (two). The other champions were the Yankees (twice) and Phillies...Now then, look at the past 13 years of Fehr's reign. In those 13 years, there were just two small-market champions: Florida and Arizona."
- Steve Politi with NJ.com: "Three years ago, the last time he almost won the U.S. Open, a pale-faced and glassy-eyed Phil Mickelson stepped behind the podium and summed up his defeat in five words...'I am such an idiot.'...Monday, after the record fifth time that he finished second in a tournament that has tortured him more than any other player, Mickelson needed three fewer words to sum up the experience...And this time, he was smiling...'Oh well.'...Mickelson came here with his wife, Amy, just days away from beginning her treatment to fight breast cancer. He was unsure if he'd be able to focus on the tournament with that on his mind."
- Jerry Sullivan with The Buffalo News: "Golf can be a maddening and frustrating game. You don’t have to be a PGA Tour veteran to understand. Sometimes, it reaches the point where you can’t take it anymore. You feel like tossing the clubs in the closet and walking away....Lucas Glover knows the feeling. About a year ago, he and golf were ready for a trial separation. Glover had been one of the rising young stars on the Tour. He had won more than $2 million in 2005 and ’06. In ’07, Jack Nicklaus had chosen him for the Presidents Cup team. It looked like his career was taking off...Once he got away, Glover realized he had been too hard on himself. It was OK to have high standards. But he was letting misfortune get the better of him. That’s no way to succeed in golf, where the best players put failure quickly behind them....Late last fall, Glover went back to work. He worked on his bunker play, putting and patience. And when he rejoined the Tour in January, he felt fresher than ever. Glover, 29, had one major goal, to do better in majors. If he was one of the promising young guys on Tour, he needed to prove it on the biggest stage."
Friday, June 19, 2009
Top 5 Plays from the NBA Finals [J. Mark English]
Joe Torre on the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien [J. Mark English]
Pedro Martinez: Will He Return? [J. Mark English]
Pedro Martinez is ready again for the lights, camera and action.
Sounding restless, peppy and in good humor, Martinez spoke from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, yesterday about why he is convinced he can help a contending team win a championship this year.
“I don’t have to keep pitching, but I’m too young to stay home and be lazy,” said the 37-year-old three-time Cy Young winner who had his best years with the Red Sox [team stats] from 1998 through 2004. “The main reason is I’m totally healthy now. As far as my health goes, this is the best I’ve felt since before 2001 - going back to ’99 or ’98 probably. I am throwing a lot down here and when I wake up the next day, I’m not sore. I can throw and throw and throw and throw.
“My arm is in full shape to throw, I just need to sharpen up my breaking stuff, really just my curve.”
Laying off the heavy weight work worked well for Martinez this offseason.
“I’m 37 - I don’t know what to do with my energy,” said Martinez, who made 20 starts last year for the Mets, five the year before. “I try to burn it all off on the field down here while I’m working out. I’m in tippy-top shape.”
“I’m thinking of becoming a swimsuit model.”
Martinez sounded more focused on suiting up with a big league team over the next few weeks. He is not too picky about where he signs, either league is fine, as long as he goes to a team that has a chance to contend. All things being equal, going to the National League is his preference, and that is not because of the absence of the designated hitter.
“No, that’s not it, all batters are the same,” said Martinez, whose lifetime ERA in the AL is 2.52, 3.31 in the senior circuit after nearly 1,400 innings in each league. “I have won a Cy Young in the National League, I have won the Cy Young in the American League, and I have won a championship in the American League. But none in the National League. This would complete the whole circle.”