Friday, September 7, 2007

Lou Holtz's "Pre-Game Speech" To Michigan Was Awkward

The Steve Phillips fake press conferences were bizarre. Steve Phillips having a fake argument with himself was even weirder. And ESPN's coverage of fake basketball (the WNBA)--I thought--was the strangest thing I'd ever seen. That was until this morning when on SportsCenter, Lou Holtz gave a fake speech to the University of Michigan Football team. As of yet, there is no Youtube account of this speech but it was uncomfortable at best and tragic at worst. Lou was dressed in a loosened tie and his nose and face were so red he looked like he'd just killed a fifth of Doc McGillicutty's before going on air. There was spit flying everywhere. He was Hooch to Mark May's Turner (though May was nowhere in sight). It just wasn't inspiring, it was sad. And what makes it even more odd is that Lou Holtz is on record as stating that he doesn't believe in pre-game speeches as a motivational tool:

"The pregame speech in the locker room is overrated," said former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who's an analyst for ESPN. "I remember when I was in college, the coach gave the greatest pep talk pregame. I was so fired up and then I go down on the opening kickoff and a guy hits you in the throat and you can't remember a word he said. Where you have to do it is during the week; to me, Thursday and Friday were the most important (days)."
So it would seem that the suits at ESPN decided that Lou had to do this against his will. While it serves as great comedy fodder, it's not really all that nice a thing to do to parade an old dude with a lisp out in front of the cameras and make him shout in a manner which he believes is completely useless in real game situations. Show some backbone, Louis!

Ankiel's HGH Story Will Spur A Lot Of Interesting Takes

Say it ain't so, Ricker.

The funny thing about this whole deal is that before this Ankiel HGH story broke I intended to write a "What's the big deal about Ankiel anyway" post this morning. I started it last night (before getting a little tossed up on fermented beverages), and my first line was "I don't get what the big deal is about Ankiel..." The meat of the post was going to be that the media is overcelebrating the story of a good athlete who lost his mind as a pitcher and then came back as a hitter. They are treating this as if any great young athlete-pitcher--like a Josh Beckett, Dontrelle or Micah Owings (Owings may be better off as a hitter)--who had given up pitching at 24 years-old and just focused on hitting couldn't have made it back to the majors as an outfielder. I disagree. I don't think they all would make it back, but I bet one of them would have. It's a unique story, I'll give you that, but great athletes who became pitchers in the majors were usually the best hitters on their teams for the first 20 years of their lives. So basically I thought too much was being made of Rick Ankiel's story. This morning I wonder if too little will be made of it.

It will be interesting to see what the media makes of the Ankiel story. This guy was a lock for comeback player of the decade and caused fans to choke up a little the first time he came back and hit a rocket out of the park. Rick Ankiel's story moved people to tears. And now he's just another "cheater." That is if the word "cheater" means the same thing it did when we labeled Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Rodney Harrison and Mark McGwire cheaters. So how will people react? One person's reaction I was interested in reading was diehard Cards fan and shameless Rick Ankiel enthusiast, Will Leitch. Leitch, the creator and EIC of Deadspin for those that don't know, put together a great--if not a little depressing--read about the situation that I'd recommend anyone take a look at. His basic take was that while the fan inside him wants so badly to come up with various defenses for Ankiel, he knows that the unbridled joy that was "The Rick Ankiel" story has been deflated entirely. He won't condemn Ankiel for doing it (in fact he sympathizes with the kid for wanting so badly to get back to the bigs that he was willing to risk so much to do it), but he is also confronted with the realization that any of the lame defenses he makes on Ankiel's behalf echo those made on behalf of Bonds for the last 5 or 6 years. It's a troubling position to find oneself in and he deals with it in a refreshingly honest manner (I just realized that this is coming off as a complete ballwash of Leitch. For that I apologize. I just really enjoyed the take, that's all. There are things I don't like about Leitch, like his EMO bangs and the speed at which he speaks...).

But there will be others who find the media's hesitation to condemn Ankiel (and there will be some serious tap dancing about this issue on Ankiel's behalf) grounded in racial bias (Stephen A. is probably licking his chops). There will be those who say that if we aren't putting an asterisk next to Rick Ankiel's numbers, it's because he's white. Now the corollary to Bonds isn't spot on because HGH wasn't technically banned by the MLB while he was taking them in 2004 whereas steroids have been banned from baseball since 1991 and therefore the alleged Bonds usage was during an MLB ban. Regardless of those technicalities, if the reports are true for both of them, they both knew they were taking illegal performance enhancing drugs when they were taking them and they are both equally culpable.

People will make all sorts of excuses for Ankiel. One of the major reasons for the slap-on-the-wrist reaction, I believe, is that Ankiel is just a humble everyman while Bonds is a dickhead. If Bonds were more like David Ortiz, he wouldn't receive nearly the volume of venom. Of course it doesn't help that Bonds has impacted the game's records while Ankiel is just a plucky former headcase who is on pace to break 100 home runs in 2010. Bonds is in the limelight a little more often and therefore receives greater attention by scribes who love taking down larger than life figures. But more than anything, I don't think contrasting reactions has anything to do with race. Rodney Harrison is black. No one is talking about him. No one even really cares. And he straight up ADMITTED to taking HGH! So I really don't look forward to race card side of this story coming to light. I think it's a cop out and serves as the ace-in-the-hole for people who don't have anything interesting to say about the subject.

My take, I guess, is that it's not a big deal because I didn't think Ankiel was a big story. He's an average player who used HGH three years ago. Why do I care? If what HGH does is allow people to start knocking out home runs in the minors 3 years after you take it and then turn into a mediocre major league player after flaming out as a pitcher, then I don't really see the threat to the sport and therefore don't really see the newsworthiness. I'm not saying we should encourage players to take HGH largely because it's likely banned in international play and it would suck to get disqualified from the Olympics and the World Baseball Classic for fielding a team of large-headed average outfielders, but in the sports world I'm always of the mindset that the headline should fit the crime OR the criminal. By that I mean that in order for a story about an athlete to be newsworthy it either needs to be about a newsworthy athlete or the athlete needed to commite a newsworthy crime. Rae Carruth was not a newsworthy athlete, but hiring a hitman to kill his pregnant wife was a particularly newsworthy crime. Alex Rodriguez cheating on his wife isn't even a crime, but he's a big enough athlete that it was newsworthy. Rick Ankiel is neither a big story nor was his year of HGH a big crime. Therefore, who gives a shit?

Eat THAT Joe Bah!

If Joba is the savior, what does that make "The Clay Bucket"? (btw, that nickname is trademark pending, bitches)

Last night Clay Buchholz didn't just make MLB history, he made baseball history. What he did has never been done since Abner Doubleday & Alexander Cartwright began throwing rocks at anyone holding a stick until finally one of those people swung their stick and connected with the rock and then began running around in a diamond-shaped path in celebration whilst Abner & Alex kept score. Last night he became the first pitcher in the history of organized baseball to follow up a no-hitter with a relief appearance wherein he threw 3 innings of scoreless one hit ball and the only hit given up was to the first batter he faced. First time EVER. We're talking little league, whiffle ball, slo-pitch AND fast-pitch softball, chinese kickball.... you fucking name it. You can stuff that fact in your sack, Elias Sports Bureau.

Be this accomplishment as it may, what I'm really getting at here is that these stupid stats that people come up with to further amplify just how good some of these young players are performing are ridiculous. Joba's "second most innings to start a career giving up no runs and striking out one batter per outing" stat is worthless. What the fuck does that mean? And why is it important? It doesn't provide us with a frame of reference because we've never heard of that stat before. This is not a streak we know about so it can't resonate with us. He's not assaulting Orel's scoreless streak or Gagne's consecutive save streak or Bobby Jenk's 41 consecutive batters streak. If we can't understand why it's an amazing stat (and I would argue it's not an amazing stat at all because the "strikeout per outing" portion of it is fucking pointless), then it's just useless fluff to give people something to talk about rather than to try and provide historical perspective. Can't we just be happy with the fact that Joba Chamberlain is fucking DICK NASTY! He's been the best pitcher for the Yanks over the last 3 weeks and if he can get himself into starting pitching shape for next year, he would add immeasurably to the Yanks prospects for '08 (personally, I'd kick Mo to the curb and insert Joba into the closers role at $365K rather than pay Mo $12-15 mil to slowly deteriorate over the next two years. Loyalty be damned). That should be good enough. I don't need a useless stat to know that Joba Chamberlain is a dangerous (and frightening for a Sox fan) weapon in the same way I don't need a stat to tell me that Clay Buchholz's 3 innings of one hit ball was invaluable for the confidence of a taxed bullpen and that he may be a critical cog in the postseason bullpen as a strong-armed long man that can keep the Sox in the game if a starter gives up 4 runs in the first 3 innings.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Violent Punters Terrorize Nation

First that Northern Colorado punter stabs the starting punter and now former punter Danny Baugher punches his dad in a drunken stooper. Since when are punters such tough guys:

Baugher was arrested about 4 a.m. Thursday in a fast-food restaurant parking lot on Washington Street in Hanover.

Officer Timothy Kane, responding to a 911 report of two men fighting in a silver Dodge Avenger, found Baugher in the front passenger seat and his father - a pilot who, Kane noted in his report, did not have an active driver’s license - behind the wheel.

The witness who called the cops told the Herald, “I heard somebody yelling, ‘Get off of me! Leave me alone!’ It sounded like there was crying going on. I saw a young guy and an old guy and thought, ‘I’d better call the cops.’ ”

Erle Baugher, a former punter at Syracuse University who tried out for the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, told Kane the spat escalated when his son punched him in the face. He declined to see a doctor.

Kane wrote in his report that the junior Baugher had “bloodshot glassy eyes, slurred and thick-tongued speech, as well as the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath.”

He described Baugher as “very evasive with his answers” and, when ordered out of the car, unable to keep his balance “due to high level of intoxication.”

The younger Baugher allegedly insisted to Kane that “nothing happened” and said he and his father “wrestle often.”
I get drunk and wrestle with my dad all the time. We call it "growin up," not assault. But there was actually something in this article even more unsettling than the fact that punter punched his dad. The lead to the article went something like this:
A promising young punter kicked to the curb by the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots allegedly turned his anger and frustration on his own father, police allege.
Did the Pats win it all last year? I had no idea. I wish someone would have told me so I didn't have to break several glasses and two remotes when Brady threw that interception in the final minute. When do you get to stop being the "Super Bowl champs." Doesn't it run out the following year? Someone needs to create a law or something.

Marcus McCauley's Dad Is Kinda Like Marv Marinovich, Just Crazier & Ex-Con-ier

It can't be easy to give on-field critiques to your son while he's playing corner: SWIVEL YOUR HIPS, SON! SWIVEL YOUR FUCKING HIPS OUT THERE! But Marcus McCauley's dad finds a way.

You know those guys. The dad's that take their 5 year-old son aside before an at-bat to talk about not "stepping in the bucket" or find their 8 year-old on the sideline after the QB gets sacked to ask him why he didn't notice the Mike Linebacker clearly preparing to shoot the 2 gap. The sons of those guys usually end up quitting sports altogether by age 12 and wearing eye makeup or else the dad eventually backs off and laughs at his former self. Either way, it's very rare that the combination of crazy dad and a son who listens to him continues into the kid's teenage year and beyond. Well apparently Marcus McCauley and his dad didn't get the message.

McCauley is a stud d-back for the Vikes who will eventually work himself into the starting lineup. Marcus McCauley's dad is that crazy guy you can hear on the sidelines screaming at his son:
For as long as McCauley Jr. can remember, Marcus McCauley Sr. was perceived to be a loudmouth, a rabble-rouser, an overbearing parent, and, as an ex-con, ill-equipped to guide his son's athletic career.
McCauley Sr. steered many of his son's decisions, from joining the track and field team to improve his athleticism, to switching high schools, to selecting Fresno State over California, to completing his degree and even choosing an agent. In the process, McCauley Sr. offended many people, especially coaches, but McCauley Jr. credits his father for helping him achieve his NFL dream

McCauley Sr. said: "I think sometimes people get the wrong perception of me, because my voice carries, and I can get loud.

"But the bottom line is, I'm not going to pacify and shoot my son no b.s., because what good is that going to do him? If I don't have his back, who will?"
Ummm, maybe someone who hasn't spent time in prison? Or perhaps someone who doesn't have such a vested interest in his success?

Overall, it's a pretty interesting article about the unique relationship between papa McCauley and perhaps the best corner selected in the draft. I don't want to go into the entire article but I'd be remiss if I didn't finish with the bizarre word choice McCauley used to sum up just how serious his dad is about having his back:
My dad would fight a dragon with a water bottle behind me."
So is it that the water bottle is behind you and your dad has to go through you to get it in order to fight the dragon? Or is it that he'd fight the dragon even though there is a water bottle behind you that would serve as better ammunition against the dragon and he wouldn't even need it because he is so strong that he could defeat the dragon sans water bottle? Or is it that the dragon would want the water bottle so badly that he would be extremely agitated about it and therefore would be tougher to fight? I guess what I'm getting at here is: what the fuck does the water bottle have to do with anything?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Tiki Barber: "Mean People Suck"

Mean old Tom Coughlin didn't let Tiki-weekie have any funny-wunny, so Tiki took his ball and went home.

So I'm supposed to feel bad for Tiki Barber. Is that it? I'm supposed to have compassion for Tiki because he played 10 years in the NFL, never suffered a career threatening injury, lives the high-life in New York Fucking City and spent his offseasons turning down more money than I'll ever make in my entire life? Well maybe you can tell by my tone (if that can be picked up in the written word) but I don't feel bad for him in the least. Instead, it's even clearer to me that he doesn't get it and he'll never get it.

A couple weeks ago I wrote that Tiki's controversial comments about Eli were a contrived attempt by him to blast onto the sports talk scene and separate himself from his good guy image. With the today's report of more controversial comments about the Giants ahead in Tiki's new book coming to light, that feeling is generally reinforced. But that's not why I want to write this. I could basically just replace Tom Coughlin's name for Eli's name in my previous piece and reprint it. The reason I'm writing this is that aside from contriving this whole angry at the Giants schtick in an attempt to make himself somehow half-interesting, Tiki really thinks that his new story about why he left the league is a compelling one. He wants to win back the fans who felt he quit on them. So NOW he blames someone other than himself (remember the first time he explained his retirement it was because he didn't want to get injured). So it's Tom Coughlin's fault that Tiki retired. Because of Coughlin's unpopularity amongst fans, Tiki felt this would be well received and those that blamed Tiki for being a pussy would now blame Coughlin. But that's not what's going to happen because this reason is worse than Tiki's earlier one.

You see Tiki, people can understand if you were breaking down (even if you didn't show it on the field) and were concerned about sustaining a debilitating injury. Some people won't, but reasonable people can probably get that notion through their heads. But when you start making other excuses (citing the Giants lack of leadership from the front office to the QB, then citing your fear of injury and then blaming the coach) for why you retired, you start to lose credibility. And beyond that, the people that were going to hate you for ditching the Giants for your fear of injury aren't going to change their minds because you thought coach Coughlin was too tough on you in practice and NOW THAT'S the reason you retired. In fact, it actually sounds worse now. Before you were a pussy because you didn't want to get hurt. Now you're a pussy who couldn't deal with a coach who didn't coddle you. And what sucks the most is that you hung the Giants out to dry. Their best player (you) retired on them after arguably his best season. That team has no chance and it's partly your fault. It's not like the team is going to get it in gear or fire Coughlin because of your comments. So ripping them after the fact isn't really helping anyone. And despite what you think, these controversies you're stirring up aren't even helping you.

You say that Tom Coughlin robbed you of the joy of football and that's why you retired. Really? Well if the joy of the Giants 2007 season wasn't robbed from the fans because of the pre-mature retirement of their best player, he's doing a hell of a job trying to rob the rest of the positivity of the start of the season from the fans by continually making the 2007 Giants about Tiki Barber and his vicious self-promoting at the expense of anyone ever associated with the Giants organization.

Why Do We Like Tiger And Hate Phil?

If this picture was drawn to scale, Tiger Woods would be leading the race by a country mile.

I'm a Phil guy. Always have been. I also like Tiger but if you were to ask who I like more between the two, Phil gets my vote by a wide margin (though Freddy Couples would blow both of them out of the water). So maybe I'm a little biased but I honestly don't understand why people root for Tiger over Phil, and why it's not very close.

Listen, there are a couple things I do understand. I understand why the corporations like Tiger more than Phil. Tiger outsells Phil like Diet Coke outsells fucking Tab. It's not even close. So Tiger is on TV more and his off-course persona has been cautiously crafted for the sole purpose that the general public will continue to like him. I get that. I also get that Tiger is better than Phil and is a once-in-a-lifetime American Figure, let alone a superior sports star who is worthy of praise if not worship by people who follow the sport. And because of that, Tiger's popularity extends beyond the scope of general golf fans in a way that Phil's image does not. I get ALL of that. And maybe that's enough to explain why Tiger is loved and Phil is not. But it doesn't explain why Phil is roundly disliked, or why Tiger is completely impervious to criticism.

One of the biggest criticism's about Phil's game is that he ALWAYS goes for it. He never lays up. He never aims for the fat part of the green whether he's 3 up, 3 down, or heads up. Phil always thinks he can hit a flop to 3 inches whether he's standing in 2 feet of gnarled shit, he's behind an oak tree or off a cart path. Phil never punches out, he never clubs down and he is never afraid of any shot. I think it's a fair criticism of his game, especially considering what happened at Winged Foot last year (a tournament cut that Tiger missed, btw). But shouldn't his reckless playing style serve as a positive? Isn't this just the kind of Faverian "fuck it, I'm going for it" attitude that America loves?

I'm not suggesting that Tiger ever lays up, backs down or doesn't go at every pin (though he did stop hitting his driver in the British Open in 2006). But when Tiger does it it's aggressive and with Phil it's risky and unnecessary. That probably has to do with the fact that Tiger picks his moments to attack the flag or fairway while Phil is always aiming at the flag no matter what the situation. Sure it has led to some heart-wrenching moments for Phil on the course, but it's also something I want "my guy" to do.

The second reason people dislike Phil is because he is deemed a phony. He smiles at the cameras and the galleries, he signs endless of hours of autographs but for someone reason it is portrayed as all for show. people believe that Phil actually hates you and me and is acting like a good dad purely for endorsements. Apparently people believe that at home he is a fat lazy drunk who hates his kids and constantly frowns. The reason they believe this is because he doesn't hang out with a ton of PGA players during non-PGA playing days. He is also sometimes a little overly honest with the media and says things that people don't like or skips tournaments to hang with his family while at the same time offering a not-so-subtle dig at PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. He doesn't toe the line. I wouldn't call him a rebel but he certainly plays by his own rules. We usually like guys like Phil. Guys like Agassi and Deion and Pedro and Pete Weber. So why the hell do we find that quality so loathsome in Phil's case? It doesn't make sense to me.

And lastly, in American we LOVE underdogs. We loved Appalachian State and Boise State. We love any team that beats the Yankees or the Patriots or Spurs and we love the tough luck guy who plays second fiddle to the superstar. We usually pull for that guy to break though. It gets boring rooting for the best team or player all the time. But we don't have that same connection with Phil.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily call Phil and underdog in the same way I'd call Appalachian State an underdog, but any player in the PGA is an underdog in any tournament that Tiger enters. Even Phil. So why wouldn't you pull for him to knock off the top guy? Normally that's exactly what we want to see. Just not with Phil.

I don't want to get redundant here but if you were to take away this weird belief that Phil thinks he's better than us and you just laid out what Phil stands for as a golf personality: Long hitter, balls the size of ostrich eggs, most creative shot maker on tour, gut-wrenching losses, good looking, always smiling, signing autographs, never backs down on the course or off and always chasing the most immortal golfer in the sports' history. Any other time, that equation adds up to likability. But not in Phil's case. It just doesn't make any sense.