Sunday, May 13, 2007

They're Not Saying "Booooo"; They're Saying "Mooo-vers."

I've debated moving over to WordPress for a while ever since Blogger's occasional fits and starts, but now I'm doing it. Back up the trucks; we're hauling this place over to a new home! Please adjust all your bookmarks, blogrolls, and feed readers accordingly to the link below:

I hand-imported the blogroll over, so those of you with links on it should be there. If not, email me. The archives have been imported over there, but I will also leave this blog as a functioning archive as well, so your old links are all functional.

Spread the word if you can, and hope to see you at the new digs!

Stealing Signals: I Got A Broken Face.

Tigers 8, Twins 2 - How unlucky are the Twins right now? Joe Mauer's already on the DL, and they're getting beat up with the latest loss to the Tigers being the fourth in a row. Justin Morneau got absolutely popped up above there, complete with broken nose. Fortunately, it won't be affecting anyone's fantasy rosters -- he says he'll play today.

Brewers 12, Mets 3 - After the Mets whooped up on the Brew Crew on Friday, Milwaukee responded by taking the sticks out for abused Met pitcher Mike Pelfrey, who is now 0-5 after giving up a 4-0 lead. J.J. Hardy then made it worse later on by knocking a grand slam off reliever Joe Smith.

Red Sox 13, Orioles 4 - Bosox bats continue to burn, as the offense overcomes an underwhelming 5.1 inning start by Curt Schilling (karma, Curt, karma.) Boh he and O's starter Steve Trachsel left a tie game to the bullpens, and it was no contest from there, as the O's bullpen lit the entire matchbook and threw it on the gasoline.

Cardinals 5, Padres 0 - Braden Looper is getting used to this starting stuff, looks like. He threw 7, and the bullpen closed it up, allowing four hits total. So Taguchi gets the big hit with a bases loaded double.

Phillies 11, Cubs 7 - Ryan Howard on the DL? No problem, at least for the Phils so far (for his fantasy owners, like me, that's another matter.) Replacement Greg Dobbs goes 4-4 with an RBI triple, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz homer. The offense bails out starter Freddy Garcia and a weak bullpen yet again.

Yankees 7, Mariners 2 - Jeter, Matsui, and Posada each get three hits to support starter Matt DeSalvo, while knocking around Mariners starter Miguel Batista.

Dodgers 7, Reds 3 - Brad Penny is on point. He gave up only one run in 6.1 innings, retiring 17 consecutive in one stretch, and lowers his ERA to 1.39. Kyle Lohse got knocked around in the 4th inning, even walking Penny with the bases loaded.

(Photo: AP/Tom Olmscheid)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

NBA Playoff Impressions: Your Reliable Veterans.

Spurs 108, Suns 101 - Guess that Kurt Thomas defending Tim Duncan could only work for so long. Timmy went off for 33 points in the game, and Manu Ginobili had 24 (10 of those in less than 2 minutes). The Suns offense would get into it at times, but Steve Nash didn't play like his usual self, going scoreless in the first half and committing turnovers he normally wouldn't.

Nets 96, Cavaliers 85 - The Cavaliers are alwats vulnerable, even though they hadn't lost a game this postseason (that made for a 10-game winning streak) until this one. Never, ever count out Jason Kidd in a playoff series; with today's game, he now owns second place in playoff triple-doubles by his own self after sharing it with Larry Bird for a while. LeBron James had only 18 points. Kidd, Vince Carter, and Richard Jefferson all had 23 points a piece. Despite being down 2-1 still, the Nets have a damn good chance to steal this series if they can keep that level of play up.

(Photo: AP/Eric Gay)

Cheap Shots #20.

1) It's not a presidential campaign without a candidate fucking up a sports analogy. [Deadspin]
2) Reenacting Jose Canseco's bar fight. [You Been Blinded]
3) An interview with Spencer Haywood, the NBA's Curt Flood. [The Starting Five]
4) Making a case for instant replay in MLB. [The Sports Flow]
5) Charles Barkley, speaking on things not basketball. He reads like Jason Whitlock, except it seems he doesn't hate black people. [The New Republic - free registration required]
6) Speaking of Whitlock, Wizards center Etan Thomas writes him an open letter. [TrueHoop]
7) Capitals fans, and most fans in general, should heed the word of the Nats owner when it comes to picking up big free agents. [Off Wing Opinion]
8) Catching up with Mo Vaughn. [The Feed]
9) Josh Beckett, fulfilling his Tremendous Upside Potential? [And Here Come The Pretzels!]
10) Shameless Commerce Division: Phoenix Suns sell a T-shirt with a #13 band aid design. [SportsByBrooks]

The Black Baron's Air Assault on AK-47.

When you get Mike Tirico unleashing his inner Gus Johnson, you know you've seen a great dunk. Call it what it is, and give the man his respect:

Boom goes the dynamite, indeed.

Yet another dominating performance from Baron Davis (32 points, 9 assists) and 25 points from Jason Richardson led to a severe can of whoop-ass. I don't think the Warriors are capable of losing in Oakland, not with the decibel level that high (ESPN put up a meter to record the noise level), and especially not when they're raining threes like that (11 in the game).

Golden State 125, Utah 105 [Yahoo Sports]

Friday, May 11, 2007

Really? This Guy? MVP?

Reports dictate Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki will get the MVP award everyone has said he'll get on Tuesday. 24.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, not bad lines, but is this an MVP line to you? Of course, this is a regular season award, but let's look at the competition for the award, averages are points, boards and assists, in that order:

Steve Nash: 18.6, 3.5, 11.6
Kobe Bryant: 31.6, 5.7, 5.4
LeBron James: 27.3, 6.7, 6.0
Chauncey Billups: 17.0, 3.4, 7.2

I threw in Chauncey because I don't think the Pistons function without him; he ought to be in the discussion. They need to re-sign him, big time. The only reason his numbers aren't better is because his team consists of such solid players.

Nash has been doing this for the past two years during his MVP seasons; it's largely the same template, and while it's fun to watch, he hasn't advanced his game enough to take three straight MVP awards. LeBron had to lead a team, but he was so maddeningly inconsistent at times during the 82, even though the Cavs landed a #2 seed (Cleveland fans may be OK with this; he's getting that team going, because they haven't lost a playoff game yet.)

Kobe Bryant will never win an MVP award, not so long as the media votes on it, because so much Kobe coverage relies on taking his off-court troubles and letting it affect the on-court stuff. The one thing I can nab Kobe on is that quite often, when he's trying to be unselfish, he doesn't do off-the-ball movement to get open again for the pass back out. However, that mediocre Laker team doesn't make the playoffs with him. The Suns become a 4 or 5 seed if Nash is gone. The Mavs are probably a 3 without Dirk; Jason Terry, Devin Harris, Josh Howard -- all good guys that can get a team into the playoffs. The Cavs aren't in without LeBron, but his regular season issues at times make him third to me. While Dirk should be up there in the MVP discussion, this shouldn't have been his year to win.

(Photo: AP/Jeff Chiu)

Mike Marshall, MLB's Rick Barry?

Possibly. We're all familiar with NBA great Rick Barry's repeated offers to teach his under-handed free-throw shooting technique to atrocious brickers like Shaquille O'Neal, and they've all been shot down, partially because Barry doesn't exactly have the most personable of reputations (yet the man shot 90% at the line with that odd technique for his career). Now, Jeff Passan has stumbled upon his baseball equivalent.

Mike Marshall is a former Cy Young winner as a Dodger reliever, having done so with an unusual delivery, developed from his own study of exercise physiology. This is what the motion looks like:

With a wrist weight ranging from 15 to 30 pounds tethered to their pitching arm, they swing their pitching arm straight down like a pendulum, lift it over their ear and follow through with a hard pronation, turning the wrist outward with the thumb pointing down.

Marshall is convinced these actions can help save baseball from one of its great scourges. The rest of the motion is simple. No leg kick. No rotating the hips back toward second base. Facing the hitter, the pitcher steps with his glove-side foot and rotates his other leg with such fury his back almost ends up parallel to home plate.

One of Marshall's students, for lack of a better description, said "we kind of throw like a girl."
Sounds familiar. That's the same critique given to Barry's under-handed technique, and the video provided with the article gives me the sense that half of that motion is like a softball pitcher's, only with overhand motion. But the stubbornness that people saw in Barry's ways are also there in Marshall, despite his profession of results, most of his students are indie league players, some who were cut from major league organizations:
Any suggestion that Marshall adapt his program – mix his motion with the traditional motion to make the transition easier, or cut out the terminology to focus on the end rather than the means, or perhaps collaborate with others in the growing field of biomechanics – is met with a stern no.

"I called him a few years ago and said, 'Tell me about your stuff,' " said Dr. Glenn Fleisig, the biomedical engineer who works alongside top baseball surgeon Dr. James Andrews at the Alabama Sports Medicine Institute. "He said no. I said, 'Can I tell you?' And he said he didn't want to hear what any other researcher is doing, that he never read or listened to anything because he didn't want to be accused of stealing. The concept of a researcher who's speaking up but won't listen is a big turn-off."

Noble, but futile, in a sense. However, one of his success stories is Dodgers reliever Rudy Seanez, and if he's still pitching at his advanced age, then why isn't a GM at least giving Marshall an ear?

Major league sports are by nature conservative, slow to adapt changes in gameplay -- look at the reluctance of most NFL coaches to even apporach the idea of using the option or any other method of offense common in the college ranks. This despite the theory that if you have an option being run to compensate for less athletically talented players, serious pro talent would make the option look revolutionary.

Barry's below the waist method, which looks like you're throwing a giant skee-ball, was so successful that he never shot less than 86% in his seasons in the NBA and the ABA. It wasn't graceful looking, and doesn't claim to tackle anything in basketball as serious as arm injuries in baseball, but it was outside the norm enough and looked so, well, unmanly, that no one, not even his own ball-playing sons, would go for it.

Major league pitching mechanics are just as sacrosanct, but with yet another pitcher in Toronto's B.J. Ryan headed under the knife for Tommy John surgery, front office folk might want to look into any method they can to protect multi-million dollar investments.

Outside Pitch [Yahoo Sports]
Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services []
Rick Barry Bio []
Rick Barry Statistics []

(Photo: Getty Images)

Stealing Signals: A Lowe Down Dirty Shame.

Marlins 3, Dodgers 0 - I wouldn't want to be Derek Lowe. You pitch an amazing game only to cough up a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth and wreck an otherwise great start. Of course, it would have helped if your teammates could have hit the ball.

Angels 8, Indians 0 - Kelvim Escobar, on fire again, throwing a seven-hitter. The Halos' offense blew up in the third inning, batting around for five runs.

Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 0 - Rarely are teams able to totally wreck Roy Halladay. The Red Sox are one of those teams that can. Not what the Blue Jays needed on top of closer B.J. Ryan being done for the season in order to have Tommy John surgery.

Pirates 6, Cubs 4 - The Cubs just can't get the motors running. Carlos Zambrano is still having issues, inconsistent from start to start, and Pittsburgh was able to get to him yesterday.

Athletics 17, Royals 3 - Are we sure we're not at a Raiders-Chiefs game? Oh, right, KC would have won that one if that were the case. Dan Johnson and Jack Cust both go deep twice for the A's. The Athletics had six homers and 18 hits total.

Rockies 5, Giants 3 - Two errors in the third, including an uncharacteristic one from SS Omar Vizquel, are what screwed the Giants over in this one, particularly the bonehead move by Ryan Klesko for going to first on a bunt instead of home to get the runner out at the plate.

(Limp-Dicked Steroid Investigation Update: Yep, like everyone figured, the players' union won't hand over the medical records George Mitchell wants. Everyone go back to sleep on this for two months.)

(Photo: AP/Lynne Sladky)

Can We Start The Eastern Conference Finals Already?

Pistons 81, Bulls 74 - I could have sworn Chicago was ahead for a portion of this game and even looked relatively into it, ready to compete, had a double-digit lead in the game. But, they let the Pistons right back in, and now the Bulls are in a hole they won't be able to dig themselves out of. The only question now is whether Chicago can save face by not getting swept. Wonder if a team has swept its first round series and then got swept in the next round.

(Photo: AP/M. Spencer Green)

You Do Not Talk Ish In The Playoffs.

Things you do not do in the NBA playoffs as a player in a crucial series:

1) Bitch about the refs. The coach does that for you. Stay out of it.
2) Say anything less than complementary about an opposing player.

Amare Stoudemire has now given the Spurs some bulletin board material, accusing the whole team of being dirty and in particular, Bruce Bowen, whom he believes tried to injure him in Game 2 by kicking him as he went up for a dunk. Nevertheless, you don't call this out in the middle of the series as a player. It's one thing as a coach to do it; it's an entirely different thing to do it as a player.

Stoudemire said he didn't react at the time because he didn't want a suspension or a technical foul that would hurt his team.
"I know it's the playoffs. I understand a hard foul," Stoudemire said. "But that wasn't a hard foul at all. That was just a purpose kick trying to injure someone."
No foul was called on the play.
His coach, Mike D'Antoni, had the right reaction -- it's so minor to him that it doesn't matter. Most of you know where I stand on the Spurs: they play on the edge of fouling at all times. The reason it works is because they dictate what gets called by playing physical. The only way you fight that in an officiating climate that favors the team dictating tempo and pace is to make them play your game and attack in response. However, Bowen has been fined for something like this before on the Sonics' Ray Allen.

Amare's made a bit of an error -- he just displayed a crack in the Suns' armor, and this will either get the refs' attention or backfire spectacularly. Fortunately, the FanHouse has found some video, so judge for yourself:

Looks pretty gnarly to me. If the NBA gives Kobe a game for throwin' bows, this should probably get a suspension or a heavy fine.

Stoudemire Calls Bowen, Ginobili Dirty Players [AP via ESPN]
Amare Stoudemire Says Bowen and the Spurs are Dirty [AOL FanHouse]

(Photo: AP/Paul Connors)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bark At The Moon.

America's favorite dog lover is getting even more heat lately -- SI's Don Banks pens a piece with the usual un-ID'd sources to state that Falcons QB Michael Vick definitely knew about the dog fighting and breeding going on at his Virginia property, which is really no big shock to any of us if actually true and verified. How do you not know what goes on at a home you own. That's really kind of tough to do, especially when your cousin is the one living in the house.

Again, let's be fair to Vick -- the sources Banks notes have known Vick, and say he likes the dog fighting subculture. There's no proof; the investigation has to take its course.

Vick is now THE subplot of the NFL season, if he manages to elude suspension under The Iron Fist of Rog, and he was even before all this dog breeding stuff came up. The Falcons are banking the entire franchise this season on Vick's arm, and Bobby Petrino has repeatedly stated that he wants Vick to take more responsibility for the plays on the field, to get him more involved. They traded Matt Schaub, the so-called insurance policy.

A make-or-break year in Atlanta is now more of a make-or-break year for Vick's career. The problem is that the Falcons' division (the NFC South) may shape up to be one of the most competitive. A revived Saints team is the class of the division; Carolina should be back on the ups after a disappointing season. Tampa Bay will be mired at the bottom, but the Falcons will be fighting to get a playoff spot from the get-go. Will Vick be able to put the problem behind him by leading his team, or will he even have the opportunity to lead that team if the investigation finds other unsavory aspects?

(Semi-unrelated update: Pacman Jones' lawyers have compiled a helpful PDF of every NFL arrest. Thanks, Deadspin!)

A Double Standard on Privacy?

I've got more thoughts on yesterday's NYT piece about George Mitchell asking for the medical records of players like Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, which he won't get.

Ever since baseball's steroid problem came to the forefront, there have been a number of sportswriters and such advocating that MLB players, if they are innocent, voluntarily turn over their medical records, etc. to prove it to the general public. Skip Bayless was the latest to advocate this on yesterday's edition of First Take (weird typing that instead of Cold Pizza, isn't it?), and that line of thought deserves an answer. Say what you will about the MLBPA and its obtuseness to the steroid problem; they stand up for the best interests of their members, and the best interest involves keeping certain things private, even when the demands of public opinion dictate otherwise.

No matter your political leanings, the trend over the past few decades has resulted in a lessening of privacy: cell phone companies can sell your phone records; the federal government can monitor those same records for its own ends. Whether you actually are subject to random drug tests at your job or not, the odds are likely that you sign a piece of paper when you're hired that you will subject yourself to them. There are very few ensconced things in law that are truly private. Attorney-client privilege and doctor-patient are a couple of them, and even some aspects of your medical records don't necessarily fall under HIPAA, which is the law intended to keep your medical records private unless released with your consent. Insurance companies already assess your medical information to determine what you pay in coverage, or if you are covered.

Are we comfortable asking athletes to cough up their medical records in order to prove a case against them? We shouldn't be, if only for purely selfish reasons -- if a precedent is established of superstars, the creme de la creme of athletics, being forced by public opinion to open their medical histories to investigators to convict them after they have been convicted in the court of public opinion, then we should take the advice: "Physician, heal thyself." What we ask of the most public in society will eventually be asked of us by our own employers.

Stealing Signals: The Day-Off Homer.

Phillies 9, Diamondbacks 3 - Ryan Howard was supposed to have the day off with lefty Randy Johnson throwing, but as soon as Johnson was out of the game, Howard was brought in to pinch-hit with the bases loaded, and he took it out to put the Phillies on top for good. Jamie Moyer topped Johnson in this contest of grumpy old men on the mound.

Cubs 1, Pirates 0 - Alfonso Soriano led off the bottom of the 1st for the Cubs with a home run, and that's all the offense that would be necessary, as Jason Marquis just went nuts, throwing a complete-game shutout to wrap up a fifth straight win.

Mets 5, Giants 3 - Armando Benitez is looking like the mediocre closer he is, as he coughs up the game-tying double to Carlos Delgado and then gives up the go-ahead runs on another double to David Wright. It would have helped if Ray Durham and Todd Linden could have figured out who was supposed to catch Jose Reyes' ball earlier.

Angels 3, Indians 2 - The Indians started with a lead off Jered Weaver, but Kendry Morales helped lead the rally back for the win for the Halos with a two run HR, and Sarge Jr. added a solo shot for the total offense.

Braves 3, Padres 2 - More grumpy old men hurling nasty stuff, as Greg Maddux took on John Smoltz, and Smoltz got the best of his former teammate. Smoltz only gave up two solo homers, but the Padres' bullpen coughed up Maddux's lead in the seventh inning.

Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 3 - I think Daisuke Matsuzaka may be okay now, giving up only one run and five hits in seven innings. More home run derby for the Sox, as Ortiz, Manny, Julio Lugo, and Mike Lowell take the ball out of the Rogers Centre.

(Photo: AP/Ross D. Franklin)

NBA Playoff Impressions: Rallying Around A Teammate.

Jazz 127, Warriors 117 (OT) - The things Derek Fisher and his family are going through with his 10-month old daughter (she has a rare form of eye cancer) are so tough, that no one could have blamed him if he hadn't made it back to the SLC to play tonight. He only hit one three-pointer, but the presence was something the Jazz needed, especially after Dee Brown went out with a neck injury when Mehmet Okur fell on him in the first quarter. Despite the declarations from both coach Jerry Sloan and starting point guard Deron Williams, the Jazz are still playing the Warriors' game -- they're just doing it better. Williams didn't outscore Baron Davis (he had 17 points to Davis' 36), but he's matching up with him in ways that Jason Terry and Josh Howard couldn't. The Warriors had this game late, holding the Jazz FG-less for over four minutes, but allowed them back in to tie and win based on bad free throw shooting, and now they face an 0-2 hole going back to Golden State.

Oh, and the Jazz needed that three from Fisher -- it just happened to be a big shot in OT.

(Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images)

Seeing Yourself On The Diamond.

So I'm staring at the cover of this week's SI yesterday morning, and I get to thumb through it before going to work. Grady Sizemore's the cover subject this week, and I'm not really familiar with him -- I know he's a damn good ballplayer and centerfielder for the Indians, and that's about it. The AL Central is not necessarily my area of expertise; I'm an NL guy, really. But I'm looking at the cover and I sense something in his face, not quite sure what it is. It looks familiar.

I read from the front to the back, and I get to the cover article, reading about how he's a class player, five-tool guy, etc., when I hit this paragraph (typed verbatim; the article's not available online, I think):

As someone who turned down the chance to play quarterback at the University of Washington, as well as someone who said he hopes he can inspire other black athletes to play baseball...
Hold up -- wait a minute:
...(Sizemore's father, Grady, is African-American, and his mother, Donna, is white), Sizemore is a timely role model for baseball. Just don't expect him to sell himself beyond letting his game deliver the message.
So THAT's what I noticed, a face similar to my own, with the same background (reverse the parents' race). In decades past, Grady could have been the black man that everyone thought was "passing." I think he was one of the Indians, along with C.C. Sabathia, that wore #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson -- I can't believe I didn't make the connection then.

Why does this matter to me so much? It's not the "grand scheme of sports" or anything. I just remember being an awkward pre-teen, trying to deal with the minor conundrum of whether I was really more white or black (or whatever that meant) who played baseball until the vision wouldn't let me any longer. As is human nature, I always wanted to see someone on the field whom I could sense had a similar experience; it's one of the ways we connect as fans to our favorite teams and players. (Derek Jeter, I knew about, but it was easy to tell -- he could never fake anyone out on his mixed-race blood.) The more biracial folks I saw in the arena of celebrity and athletics, the less weird I felt.

I know it's basic, simple identification, but I think I've got yet another player that I'll be rooting for. His life story is completely different from mine, but what impressed me is the self-consciousness about wanting to inspire more black athletes to play baseball -- he's comfortable with who he is and his background in ways I haven't quite gotten to or accepted yet.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Cheap Shots #19.

All the crap I didn't get to or couldn't think of anything funny or insightful to write about, other people did ten times better. Read them below.

1) A gargantuan task, indeed, as the Channel 4 News Team's Fearless Leader is looking for your entries to assemble the Douchebaggery Scale. [Awful Announcing]
2) Ladies, Joe Mauer is available, and you could win a date with him. [Babes Love Baseball]
3) In NBC's never ending desperation for programming (House was produced originally by their studio, yet the Peacock heads passed on it and let Fox have another hit), they're going to feature tennis player Mark Phillippousis in a reality dating show. [AOL FanHouse]
4) The suck-ass quality of CBS Sportsline. [Why Don't We Get Drunk And Blog?]
5) Larry hadn't seen the ESPN awfulness that is Madden Nation before now, and it's made him fairly ill. [Larry Brown Sports]
6) Evander Holyfield clearly had his brain beaten out of him, because he wants to fight again. [Rumors and Rants]
7) Hey, Shakira's hips take precedence over soccer for me too, and I LIKE the sport. [The Beautiful Game]
8) Five good questions with a Brewer beat writer. (Really, keep checking Stiles for these interview series. They get better and better.) [Stiles Points]
9) The booze bans in some MLB clubhouses are knee-jerk BS. [The Hater Nation]
10) Planning on heading to China for the Olympics next year? Prepare to shell out some serious yuan for the bottled water. [Lion in Oil]
11) One college hoops junkie is calling this year's NBA playoffs more exciting. [Just Call Me Juice]
12) A fly on the wall catches Peyton Manning's brush with royalty. [Shot to Nothing]
13) There's a Sports Blog Formula? Possibly. [The Starting Five]

As usual, if you have interesting bits that you'd like to send in, the email is

Blah Blah Steroid Investigation.

(Apologies to Babes Love Baseball for borrowing their usual title for steroid-related stuff.)

Former Senator George Mitchell's steroid investigation keeps chugging along at the slowest of speeds. Investigators have asked the Baltimore Orioles to send records to players such as Jason Grimsley, David Segui, Fernando Tatis, and oh yeah, these two guys on the left, and ask for them to authorize the release of those records to the investigators, which we all know they won't do.

The investigation is basically a limp-dicked attempt by MLB to try to get to what it believes is still the heart of the problem: rooting out the individual players. However, the whole manner runs up against privacy matters, and never mind the MLBPA's rabid defense of its membership (despite the subject matter, the NFLPA could learn a bit of a lesson in how a union is supposed to represent its members.) With all that in mind, Mitchell's investigation, for now, remains fairly useless, because he has no subpoena power at all. Expect Congress to get involved yet again for another Gross Spectacle when Mitchell hits the wall we all see coming.

Sosa and Palmeiro Cited in Steroid Investigation [New York Times]

(Photo: Baltimore Sun/Lloyd Fox)

Ditching The Swimsuit.

You may recognize the woman on your right as Olympic gold medalist Amanda Beard (winner of seven Olympic medals total). According to the last page in the current issue of Playboy (another year, another bleach-blonde Playmate of the Year, guh), she'll have a pictorial in the next month's issue, and is probably the most likely cover subject. You never can tell, though -- somewhere along the line, the mag decided not to put the Playmate of the Year on the cover, and the trend continues, with some blonde Trump fired off the Apprentice on a season I haven't watched on it instead on the issue I got in the mail yesterday. Of course, there are the usual objectors to Beard's posing nude, based on whether posing nude is objectification or not:

What upsets some people like Dr. Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, as she told the New York Daily News, is that “It used to be that female athletes were portrayed as wholesome, All-American girls. Now you get female athletes in GQ, Playboy and the Swimsuit issue. The result of it is coverage that is very damaging—that trivializes and marginalizes women athletes because it does not give them the respect they deserve as competent athletes.”
I'm not sure when and if female athletes were ever really portrayed as wholesome and all-American by the culture at large -- I think the old stereotype we could apply there is either "tomboy" or "butch" as far as female athletes in a lot of sports went, so I'm not quite hanging with Dr. Kane's point there. Weren't athletics, and certain sports in particular, seen as not particularly feminine? This is kind of a perverse validation of the all-American value of women in sports -- realizing that they are feminine enough in appearance to be "the girl next door" that Playboy aims for, despite the inevitable airbrushing (plus, let's not forget that Beard is a model; this isn't exactly a stretch for her, and she's not exactly outside the beauty norms.)

The question over whether Beard ought to pose nude is irrelevant: her body, let her do what she wants with it. It's not like she'll lack for control over how it's presented (I do believe celeb subjects get a good amount of say on the photos). The amount of caring I could do is negligible -- attractive as Amanda Beard is, somewhere along the line, Playboy has kind of been the dropping off point; notable women come to pose nude on the tail end of careers. It'll be nice to look at once and forget about. I never thought I'd say it with any sort of conviction, but I think I subscribe to the magazine more for the articles now.

Amanda Beard to Appear In Playboy [Timed Finals]
Amanda Beard Is Gettin' Naked [With Leather]

Stealing Signals: That's A Beer With Head.

Brewers 6, Nationals 4 - I usually wouldn't feature a pic from a game that you expect the better team to win like this, but I have to note: is any team more on fire than the Brewers right now? I mean, the "this year's Tigers" talk is a little premature, but when you have Prince Fielder jacking a three-run HR and J.J. Hardy adding another in the eighth as the Brew Crew goes 8-1 in nine games on this current homestand, this could stand up, especially in a weak division.

Mets 4, Giants 1 - The "1" on your scoreboard is #745 from the bat of Barry Bonds. Otherwise, Tom Glavine was on lockdown, now six victories away from 300.

Pirates 4, Cubs 3
- Amazing. Jack Wilson has an 0-6 day at the plate, yet drives in the two runs for sac flies in the 9th and the 15th to win the game for the Bucs. First blown save of the year for the Cubs' Ryan Dempster.

Twins 7, White Sox 4 - Justin Morneau comes up big again with Joe Mauer on the DL. He hits two homers in the game, plus the game-winning 3-run homer in the bottom of the 10th.

Tigers 9, Mariners 7 - Don't look now, but the Tigers have won eight straight, matching the Giants' earlier streak for the longest in the majors this season. Right now, the only concern is Jeremy Bonderman's first inning issues -- he gave up another jack in the first to Richie Sexson, and five earned overall. It's not hampering his wins -- he hasn't lost in his last 11 starts.

Red Sox 9, Blue Jays 2 - Josh Beckett is now 7-0, while the BoSox offense pounds out four home runs (Lowell, Youkilis, Pedroia, and Varitek). The Blue Jays have lost seven straight.

(Photo: AP/Morry Gash)

NBA Playoff Impressions: That's A Response.

Suns 101, Spurs 81 - Boy, guess chewing out your team works; Nash and D'Antoni ought to do it more often. D'Antoni makes a necessary adjustment by placing Kurt Thomas on Tim Duncan for the game, and the Suns took over in the second period and didn't really look back after that. So, we leave Phoenix with a split, and the question is whether the Suns can take one near the Alamo come Saturday. Amare Stoudamire had 21 of his 27 in the second half.

Cavaliers 102, Nets 92
- Yes, LeBron popped in a big-time 36 points tonight (25 in the second half) and 12 assists, and Sasha Pavlovic scored 17 while playing some lock-down D. But here's the stat that probably makes the difference right now, and why an experienced Nets team is down 2-0 when they should be able to get a split on the road: they were outrebounded 49 to 32, with only 3 offensive rebounds the whole game. That won't just get you beat; that's likely to get you swept if it keeps up.

(Photo: Garrett Elwood/NBAE/Getty)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Baseball Players Say The Darndest Things.

David Wells is talking ish about Roger Clemens and his non-travel clauses in his contracts that he's had ever since he went to Houston:

"I don't think I would ever do it because of the fact I personally think it would disrespect the team and your teammates," Wells said, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "You look at the other players. How are they going to respect you? What are they going to think if you're not there pulling for the team?"
Boomer has a tendency to spout off a lot, but that doesn't make him wrong -- and teammate Greg Maddux is backing him up.
"I can't imagine doing that," Maddux said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "I like the game. I like the atmosphere. I appreciate what it has to offer. I want to play the whole year."
The problem with the Rocket's precedent is that it reeks of the baseball equivalent of Shaq taking about half of the regular season off last year for the Heat, and look how well that turned out. What's worse is the implication, in this Buster Olney piece on how Clemens returned to the Bronx, that making the Clemens exception would have caused trouble if they'd kept Randy Johnson around:
And when the Yankees traded Randy Johnson to the Diamondbacks, they felt as if they were setting themselves up in two ways to lure Clemens: First, by clearing Johnson's $16 million salary from their books, they would have the cash to bid aggressively on Clemens, and secondly, they would no longer have second thoughts about giving Clemens special treatment, like leaving the team on days between his starts. They would not have wanted to create that precedent if Johnson was still on the team.
There will be another 40+ year old pitcher who is dominant enough to use this as a precedent down the line, and it's not a good one to follow.

Now, we get to a much more controversial name -- two Red Sox players have now chipped in on the whole Barry Bonds/steroids/breaking the HR record bit. David Ortiz isn't really convinced that Bonds took steroids, mostly on the grounds of not knowing whether that actually affects the hand-eye coordination necessary to hit like Bonds does, and to an extent, Ortiz does. However, Ortiz isn't crazy about commissioner Bud Selig possibly skipping out on #756:
"He's just making things worse," Ortiz told the Herald. "He's the commissioner, there's nothing you can do about it. You can't be saying that. What are people going to think about the game? They'll be like, 'This game is a joke.' He should come, even if he doesn't want to."
Bosox pitcher Curt Schilling also weighed in to WEEI radio:
"Hank Aaron not being there. [Selig] trying to figure out where to be. It's sad," Schilling said, according to the [Boston Globe]. "And I don't care that [Bonds is] black, or green, or purple, or yellow, or whatever. It's unfortunate ... there's good people and bad people. It's unfortunate that it's happening the way it's happening."
Didn't end there, though, as #38 ripped Bonds for being an admitted tax cheat, adulterer, and steroid user -- even though Bonds has never admitted to that in public, I believe.

Selig has to live with the mess he's made. Any concrete proof we have on Barry is limited to leaked grand jury testimony, which he hasn't been charged or convicted on yet. Baseball can't and shouldn't be allowed to think that ignoring Bonds will make him the easy scapegoat, letting it off the hook.

The Chase For The Victoria Cup?

The basic question in response to the idea of an NHL team taking on a Euro league champion in hockey for something called the Victoria Cup is: Would you watch?

IIHL head Rene Fasso says an unidentified NHL team will participate in the inaugural tournament, along with the European cup champion and one other European team, and eventually, the IIHL would like the Stanley Cup champ to take on the Euro champ every year. A few things they will likely have to reconcile:

1) the rink rules they'll be playing under -- I know little about the Euro leagues, I presume they play under international rink dimensions and rules, so this would probably look more like Olympic/international hockey matches than the NHL. Based on your viewing experience, this is either a plus or a minus (I like bigger rinks). Also, less checking.

2) The NHL's long season -- by the time you would have a Stanley Cup champion, they'd have gone through a grueling schedule that's longer than the European leagues, and it's safe to think that you wouldn't exactly be getting a high level of play from that NHL team.

3) Injury concerns -- much like the ones that marred last year's baseball tournament, and the ones that always come up for NBA players participating in the Olympics.

The whole concept could work or fall on its ass spectacularly. It would probably work better if you do it every other year, and split that up on those two years when the Winter Olympics aren't being held.

Stealing Signals: Penny Lane.

Dodgers 6, Marlins 1 - Brad Penny goes atomic on the Fish, striking out 14 and allowing five baserunners in seven innings of work. He even helped himself with a two-RBI single. The Marlins' sole run came off a Dan Uggla homer against the Dodger pen.

Giants 9, Mets 4 - Sigh. I get either Good Oliver or Bad Oliver, and tonight, I got only bad from Oliver Perez, who coughed up nine in the fifth inning, including two homers to Giant catcher Bengie Molina. Jesus, Oliver. At least give up two homers in an inning to Barry or something. Errors from Shawn Green and Damion Easley (filling in for Jose Valentin) didn't help.

Rockies 3, Cardinals 2 - More proof your team is having a hard-luck season: the walk-off play against you is not a home run, not even a hit. Tyler Johnson gave up a bases loaded walk to Brad Hawpe to end the game.

Mariners 3, Yankees 2 - The Yankees got screwed on a stolen base call when the M's Willie Bloomquist had been out by a country mile, but it's not like that forced Mariano Rivera to give up a game-winning HR to Adrian Beltre.

Padres 4, Braves 2 - Chris Young strikes out eight Braves in six innings, breaking a bad streak against Atlanta with two runs and two hits given up.

Indians 10, Orioles 1
- The Tribe went batty in the seventh with a four-run inning, and Travis Hafner then put it way out of reach with a grand slam in the eighth inning. Fausto Carmona gave up only one run in a semi-duel with Steve Trachsel, but Carmona wound up getting the win, as the O's bullpen collapsed after Trachsel left the game.

(Photo: AP/Wilfredo Lee)

NBA Playoff Impressions: Sweet and Lowdown.

Jazz 116, Warriors 112 - This may shape up to be just as good a series as Spurs-Suns. I thought both of them would go seven, but I didn't think both teams would be cracking triple digits in game one of this series easy. Be happy if you bet the over. As I feared, the Warriors may not have the presence to deal with Carlos Boozer pounding the boards inside; while he only had 17 points tonight, his 20 rebounds were much more important. Deron Williams threw in 31 points, besting Boom Dizzle (I'm stealing this nickname for Baron Davis from Golden State of Mind; hope they don't mind) in their first matchup. The Warriors need to get their split in the next game.

Pistons 108, Bulls 87 - I thought this series was supposed to be competitive. Did the Bulls just blow their wad on beating an old Miami team or are the Pistons that good? Clearly, the Pistons are the class of the Eastern Conference, but I didn't think they were "beat every opponent by double digits damn near every night" good.

(Photo: AP/Jeff Chiu)

Monday, May 07, 2007

This Televising Drafts Stuff Has Gone A Bit Too Far.

Methinks ESPN has gone a bit off the deep end and figured one draft is as good as another when it comes to deciding whether to televise them or not. Basking in the afterglow of the usual bonanza in NFL Draft ratings, where you had me and every other NFL obsessive watching a six-hour first round a week ago, now the WWL has decided that the Major League Baseball entry draft will make good television for the Deuce.

Let's quickly go over why this won't work AT ALL:

1) 50 rounds. 'Nuff said. It's not like ESPN2 will show all of them, but still...
2) Sometimes, there are #1 picks that wind up flopping in ways we don't get to track. Such is the nature of baseball. Players that look great in high school and college get trapped in the minors. Part of the innate appeal of the NBA and NFL drafts is that you will see the players in the League or Association right away (in the NFL's case, the majority of the first day players fall under this rubric.) So, if someone's a bust in those leagues, we get to see it on a bigger scale. That kind of dynamic is part of the appeal of the draft.
3) Also, a player can be drafted, and opt to go to college, I believe, delaying the gratification further.
4) Drafts for sports with established farm systems aren't as thrilling or interesting to watch. The stakes are lower by nature. Teams aren't filling immediate holes -- the fun of the NBA and NFL drafts lies in the fact that teams have holes they need to fill NOW. Baseball and hockey drafts are about developing talent to fill holes down the line, developing a team strategy.
5) You really want to watch a first round full of Bud Selig?

None of that really makes for the analyst overkill, instant response, and psycho fan attendance that defines the NFL and NBA drafts. Of course, putting MLB's draft on ESPN2 is kind of a tacit admission in itself.

Cheap Shots #18.

No inspiration, plus I woke up late. Mondays are never good for the A-game.

1) Summing up some extra vitriol for Mr. Clemens. [Babes Love Baseball]
2) T-Mac's taking that playoff loss hard. [Leave the Man Alone]
3) The Royals often put up a lot of bagels on the scoreboard, but Panera Bread didn't think they'd put up 13 or more hits, and are now paying for it. [Our Book of Scrap]
4) More piling on Brady Quinn. [WBRS Sports Blog]
5) A Clippers sideline reporter and her double entendre, captured on YouTube. [With Leather]
6) So soccer doesn't bring the faith leaders together like it used to, huh? [Seal Clubbers]
7) Georgetown, pay JT3 his money. [FanHouse]
8) I thought they sent all the busted memorabilia to Africa. Guess not. [EDSBS]
9) Running down Saturday's fight (which I saw most of, the party I went to had coughed up for it.) [Rumors and Rants]
10) We start with Clemens and end with him, as the Ladies have found his ego-pumping appearance yesterday at Yankee Stadium on video. [Ladies...]

Sunday, May 06, 2007

NBA Playoff Impressions: Blood On The Dance Floor.

Spurs 111, Suns 106 - A nip-and-tuck game determined ultimately by a collision on the court, as Steve Nash's nose burst and the Suns staff couldn't stop the bleeding in order to get him back in the game, and without Nash, the Suns on the court looked confused, running around with their head cut off. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker went big for the Spurs, each clocking over 30 points. Nash was on fire with 31, but those 45 seconds he had to sit out meant the game. Hopefully every game in the series is as close as this one was.

Cavs 81, Nets 77 - Hm. It seems Cleveland can play defense. The Nets shot only 37 percent for the game, and Vince Carter had the game he has at least once every playoff series, where he can't hit a thing. However, those games are usually followed up by ones where he explodes. LeBron had 21 points, but a crucial block near the end of the game helped out.

(Photo: Garrett Elwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Our Long National Nightmare Is Over.

Roger Clemens has decided to grace the suffering Yankees with his presence for several months of the season after a few warm-up starts in the minors (which will be overcovered to the point of nausea by ESPN and the ilk) The Boss will pay him a pro-rated $26 million for the rest of the season, which equates to about $4.5 million per month.

Will this solve the Yankees' pitching problems, and catapult them to the top of the AL East? Don't bet on it. It's hard to bet against Clemens, but it's worth noting that he's been pitching in the National League for the past few years, and the lineups in the AL are superior (and this isn't only on the DH alone.) Let's also add that adding Clemens does nothing to solve the Yankees' overused bullpen; in fact, he may exacerbate the problem, as he does not regularly throw 7 innings any longer. The Red Sox pen is not only more reliable, but gets a hand from starters like Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, and Tim Wakefield (who is a real big innings eater at times because the knuckler doesn't take as much off his arm.)

This solves only half of the Yankees' problem.

Two Different Stories, The Poll And The Narratives.

By now, you have either heard of the ESPN/ABC poll on Barry Bonds on Baseball Tonight prior to the start of the Phillies-Giants game (which, oddly enough, Bonds will not be starting in), or have read it online, and Jayson Stark's companion column. For a quick summary: more blacks than whites polled want to see Bonds break Hank Aaron's record, and more blacks than whites think Bonds is getting a raw deal from the press and baseball.

Conflict, though -- Bonds is breaking a record held by a black man. Why should that perception of race feed into this? It would be easier to explain if Hank Aaron were white. However, let me throw a few things out there that might give some insight into the difference, and maybe why that is quite so stark. I can't say these are authoritative in any sense; these are, at best, educated guesses, and I would like to see what you all think in comments, if you're so inclined.

1) The legend of Henry Aaron is unimpeachable. Hardscrabble success story, one of the last links to segregation in baseball, and the trials he had to go through in order to reach the peak, never mind the death threats for breaking Babe Ruth's record back then. Barry Bonds' story is colored (pardon the accidental pun) by several issues, that do not fall in line with the preferred stories in athletes:

a. He is the son of a major league ballplayer. He watched his father Bobby get savaged by the press, and he is likely to know first-hand what this game is like as a profession. Thus, he may treat it as we treat our 9-to-5s, despite the fact that most athletes, in public, espouse the view of the fan -- they are lucky to be doing this for a living. Barry rarely looks as if he enjoys his work.
b. Bonds has always lacked tact with the press, for the above reasons with his father, and refused the humility a lot of fans and media like to see in pro athletes. This whole animosity did not start when the increase in muscle mass began -- that perception only fueled the contentious relationship.
c. Aaron's story is the American Dream writ large; to have his record go to what seems like a bratty, rich black man is off-putting.

2. Barry Bonds has never tested positive for steroids or any other performance enhancer. Yet, he is for all intents and purposes (at least to most sports media) a cheat, mostly based on the silence of his trainer Greg Anderson in the BALCO investigation, Book of Shadows, and an increase in muscle mass the likes that had not been viewed at an age where many athletes break down. (let's not forget "the cream and the clear" as well.) He has already been convicted in many media outlets; most are waiting the eventual federal investigation to turn up what they know to be true already. He hasn't been tried or found with a dirty sample. Would you blame anyone for thinking he might be getting ripped for very little?

3. The scapegoating factor: Baseball took a shot in the ribs after the evasion by Mark McGwire testifying before Congress (as well as the hypocrisy of Rafael Palmiero), and in its eagerness to try and forget its own blinders in the late Eighties and Nineties, would prefer to ignore Bonds' mark and play up his negatives, in order to make this less of an issue for the owners and commissioner Bud Selig to acknowledge. When Barry hits 756, that won't change, and even if Alex Rodriguez does own both the single-season and career HR records by the end of his time, that doesn't make it any better. A perception that may fuel the numbers is that the media is trying to pass off the game's indiscretions on the shoulders of one man, to avoid accountability for the steroid mess on both Selig and MLBPA head Don Fehr.

4. Sportswriters have been lousy at separating their perceptions of Bonds as a person, with his background, from analysis of his on-field performance. The steroid questions serve to fill a narrative -- a player whom all decent fans ought to hold in contempt has another chip against him, but let us remember that none of the alleged enhancers were illegal in baseball until after the fact. Narratives are easy to fill in the blanks on, especially when they are adopted more often than not. We can say he's a prick and an asshole, but if you had been made to wear the "villain" label your whole pro career (even in his days with the Pirates), wouldn't you just say, "Fuck you people" and go do your job?

(Cross-sport note: a similar narrative and animosity have worked for Kobe Bryant -- there was something precocious and ambitious about him that wasn't likable prior to the sexual assault trial, and the trial and civil settlement drives the on-court perception to this day.)

5. Bonds cannot be alone in the whole doping enterprise, if he has participated. So, why does he garner all the attention, especially when rumors have swirled around Roger Clemens for years now (more on his return to the Yanks later), for example, and he only faces the scrutiny of what team he will wind up with, as he plays with the media on his fake retirement? Revelations like the Mets' clubhouse manager having to talk as part of a plea deal will tell us more of the scope of this problem. It doesn't start and end with Bonds -- but with the framing of it, it's almost as if it did.

Again, these are impressions, educated guesses at best and completely off the mark at worst, so let me have it.

Stealing Signals: Wang Drops The Hammer.

Yankees 8, Mariners 1 - Chien-Ming Wang threw seven innings of perfect ball, and the Yanks just tore up Jeff Weaver for a five-run inning. Weaver is now 0-5, and Mike Hargrove is going to have to consider whether to pull him from the rotation. The elder Weaver should have known better than to go back to the American League. In the NL, he's serviceable, and can eke out at least .500, but in the AL, he's a waste.

Dodgers 6, Braves 3 - Derek Lowe becomes one of the few pitchers this year to outdo Tim Hudson, who was on a roll until tonight. The underwhelming Wilson Betemit nailed the go-ahead home run off Hudson while hitting for Lowe in the eighth.

Twins 2, Red Sox 1 - The BoSox sluggers battered Johan Santana, but couldn't cash it in at all, leaving 12 runners on base even though they chased Santana from the game in the fifth inning.

Astros 13, Cardinals 0 - After finding out ace Chris Carpenter would be on the DL for three months, the Cards got a football score laid on them. Kip Wells had another miserable start, while Houston rookie Mike Albers threw eight scoreless for the win.

Mets 6, Diamondbacks 2
- The Mets keep finding good pitching in odd places -- Jorge Sosa, who washed out with the Braves last year, was called up from Triple A to start, and gave up only two runs over 6.1 innings. Shawn Green started the run-scoring with a 2-run homer, and the Mets added four more off reigning Cy Young winner Brandon Webb in the sixth.

Giants 9, Phillies 4
- Bonds jacks #744. Eliezer Alfonzo and Pedro Feliz added homers of their own to add to SF's total, and I suppose the only comfort the Phillies have is that Bruce Bochy has said Bonds will not start in tonight's game.

Devil Rays 3, Athletics 2 (12 innings) - A's closer Houston Street coughs up a homer to Ty Wigginton to blow the save and send it to extras, and Brendan Harris drives Ben Zobrist in to win it in the 12th inning.

(Photo: Reuters)

NBA Playoff Impressions: The Hurdle Is Still There.

Jazz 103, Rockets 99 - It's like we're watching that sort of old magic that Stockton and Malone would work, sure, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams need to do this on a more consistent basis, but this is Jerry Sloan's tried and true system, much as some of us hate it in terms of boring old halfcourt offense. Tracy McGrady still has that first round playoff hurdle to get over, and while Shane Battier should be kept to assist McGrady and Yao Ming, the rest of the parts (maybe save Rafer Alston) could be scrapped in order to add for another role player to spread the floor out. It's certainly not as if McGrady didn't give it his all; it just wasn't enough, yet again.

Pistons 95, Bulls 69
- This whole series got off on the wrong foot for the Bulls to begin with, getting whistled for five cheap fouls in the first few minutes (with two of those on Ben Gordon in about three minutes, and they need him to score early and often to have a chance at the upset), and Detroit just owned this game from the beginning. Of all the teams that play in the old slow-down, half-court offense, Detroit is possibly the most exciting because the front court of Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, and Tayshaun Prince is similar in size and passing skills to what would be optimal for say, the Suns, if a more solid defensive version, as Max noted in his series preview at the Starting Five.

Western Semis Picks: I think both of these matchups will go seven, so let's get that out of the way.

Spurs vs. Suns - The obvious problem for the Suns, as viewed in prior years, is that the Spurs can play run-and-gun with the Suns, but this team of control freaks will be looking to slow down Phoenix after an initial attempts to beat them at their tempo. What San Antonio does is beat you at your tempo, then shift to the pace they want to play at. The wrinkle in the whole series this time will be the play of Amare Stoudamire. This Suns team is vastly improved with him in the line-up, and he's gained more skill in his absence. Tim Duncan will need to push the post, get Amare in foul trouble early, and let's see if Nash can put up a defensive fight against Tony Parker. I think this Suns team squeaks through this time.

Warriors vs. Jazz - Carlos Boozer will do to the Warriors inside what Dirk Nowitzki either could not or would not -- pound the post. We need to see how Don Nelson will line up his squad to prepare for that. Hopefully he doesn't do what Avery Johnson did, and change up the lineup that got him to the second round. The Warriors have a decided advantage when the games are at Oracle Arena, but they will need to take one in Salt Lake City. Can they do that? I think they will be able to steal a road game, so Warriors in the full number of games, as long as Baron Davis' hamstring holds up.

(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pleading Poverty.

This man at your left is already well off, and will be even more so when he arrives in Los Angeles in July to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy (and supposedly to revolutionize and improve MLS' image; I'm not quite buying it.)

But this isn't really about David Beckham or his salary; it's got more to do with the rest of the league's players, many of them whom apparently pull in less money in a year than I do, according to the report released by the MLS' players union:

[Beckham's] $6.5 million in average guaranteed annual salary is well ahead of Chicago Fire forward Cuauhtemoc Blanco's $2.6 million, New York Red Bulls forward Juan Pablo Angel's $1.59 million, Red Bulls midfielder Claudio Reyna's $1.25 million, Galaxy forward Landon Donovan's $900,000 and Kansas City Wizards forward Eddie Johnson's $875,000.

They are the six highest-paid players in the league. What troubles the union, though, is that there are 57 players earning the league minimum of $12,900 and another 36 earning [Galaxy rookie Ty] Harden's $17,700 salary.

"From our perspective, it's the level of the low end that's the big issue," [union executive director Bob] Foose said. "It's a big, big problem. A third of the league has to ask their parents for money to pay the rent."
The senior member minimum is 30K, and the development contract is that league minimum of just under 13K annually. The figures were released by the union in a hope to shame MLS into improving the situation. Most of the time, we're pretty jaded about these sorts of things with pro athletes looking for more money, but when some of your players are probably calling Mom and Dad every month to help with the utility bills in big cities with high costs of living, it may be worth revisiting the pay scale a bit.

A Pay Scale Of Disparity [L.A. Times]

Stealing Signals: State and Maine.

Mets 5, Diamondbacks 3 - Bolstered by home runs from grumpy old man Julio Franco and catcher Paul Lo Duca, John Maine has quietly become the Mets' most consistent starter, off to a 4-0 start, and showing promise Mets nuts hoped for when he first came throwing. Franco, 48, hit the homer off Randy Johnson, 43, for the oldest combination of both sides of an at-bat.

Red Sox 2, Twins 0 - Speaking of old men, it's pretty clear that knuckleballs keep you young. Tim Wakefield is still a steady starter in this league in his 40s by throwing a ball that seems to barely require any exertion on his end, and did it while being sick. Papelbon comes in to grab yet another save, and David Ortiz belts one out for the only necessary run (J.D. Drew scored in the ninth after hitting a triple.)

Marlins 5, Padres 4 - Banging back-to-back homers in the eighth is a good way to bail out your star starter when he doesn't have his best night, and that's what Josh Willingham and Joe Burchard did for Dontrelle Willis.

Mariners 15, Yankees 11 - Yay, football scores! The M's had 20 hits total, and everyone in their line-up had a base hit, knocking around Kei Igawa and the Yankee bullpen pretty badly. The Yanks did the same to Cha Seung Baek, getting the Mariners down by five early on.

Braves 4, Dodgers 0
- John Smoltz mows down the Dodger lineup, by pitching seven shut-out innings. Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur provide the run support.

Cardinals 3, Astros 2 - If you're a last place team recovering from an awful tragedy and haven't won since it happened, then the next-to-last team is always good for what ails you. Adam Wainwright gave up two runs on six innings to grab the win, and Woody Williams is at 0-5 for the Astros.

Giants 6, Phillies 2 - The Giants make Jamie Moyer and the Phils pay for walking Barry Bonds. Eliezer Alfonzo gets a pinch-hit bases clearing double to wreck an otherwise good start by yet another cranky old man on the mound.

Angels 5, White Sox 1
- Darin Erstad bizarrely loses a ball in the lights of Comiskey, and catcher Mike Napoli gets an RBI double as a result. Kelvim Escobar throws seven innings of one-run ball for the win, while Jose Contreras continues to get hit up.

(Photo: Reuters/Rick Scuteri)

NBA Playoff Impressions: The East Semis Are Set.

Nets 98, Raptors 97 - New Jersey pulls off the upset in six games that damn near everyone was expecting: no one really looked to this Toronto team to advance past veterans like Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson, despite their utter lack of a post presence. Despite that, this was the one Eastern series that provoked any sort of excitement or close play, and Game Six was the same way: won a Richard Jefferson shot with eight seconds left in the game. Enjoy it while you still can, Jersey fans.

Now, let's have a look at the Eastern semifinals and make some blissfully uninformed picks:

Bulls vs. Pistons -- competitive series, to be sure. The way Ben Gordon and Luol Deng have come on so far is nothing short of incredible to watch. However, that was a decrepit Miami team on the court (despite my thought that the Heat would win in six), and it showed. This is the first real test, and while they'll give the Pistons a really good workout, this series will be over in six games, in Detroit's favor -- due to experience, and the way they spread the points around to all five starters, plus Antonio McDyess.

Nets vs. Cavaliers -- If there is anything I have harped on more and more with these recaps, it has been the Cavaliers' miserable attempts at defense. Despite sweeping a Wizards team that is a shadow of itself without Caron Butler or Gilbert Arenas, none of those four Cavs wins were what anyone would call dominating. Antawn Jamison was repeatedly allowed to score 30+ points in those four games. The Nets lack a post game, but unless Zydrunas Ilgauskas somehow makes them pay for not having an inside defender and LeBron James has another performance like last year against Detroit in the semis, I'm giving this series to playoff experience. Nets in five, but I would love to be wrong.

(Photo: NBAE/Getty Images/Jesse D. Garrabranth)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Chris Matthews Would Like To Play With Some Hard Balls.

NBC, please keep this man from moderating any more debates.

I watch the debates compulsively as a political junkie of sorts, and rarely am I impressed with any of the moderators the networks dig up among their stable of talking heads. Both MSNBC debates, from last week's Democratic debate in South Carolina to last night's GOP square-off in Simi Valley, have been lame excuses for the horse race. I get that the herd kind of needs to be thinned, but it would help if the moderators would try to stick to political questions. During the Dem debate, Brian Williams rattled off some crap about the Democratic Party being extinct if they lose the presidency in 2008 (despite 2006's Congressional takeover), and then, we get questions like these:

Moderator: Governor Gilmore, you know Karl Rove and you've worked with Karl Rove. Is Karl Rove your friend?

And later:
Moderator: But let me ask you about something else that might be a negative in the upcoming campaign. Seriously.
Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House? (Laughter)
Romney: You have got to be kidding.
Moderator: No, I'm not.

Chris Matthews is still obsessed with Bill Clinton's dick after six years. That's the conclusion I've ultimately come to. It's not like Brian Williams acquitted himself any better last week, either.

Actual debate insights: Tom Tancredo (I used to live in his district), Duncan Hunter, and Sam Brownback scare me. Giuliani gets actual points for knowing the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite (but he's still creepy and authoritarian, and the whole cross-dressing and the bad splits with ex-wives will catch up with him.) Romney invoked Ronald Reagan's name the most; no coincidence there. Everyone was basking in the glow of the Reagan library, and couldn't move fast away from moderator questions about Bush quickly enough.

The Things We Do For Ratings.

Via Idolator, I get another reason to despise sweeps periods: apparently even Los Angeles TV affiliates are trying to scare people about emo, about three years too late.

I guarantee this is how the idea meeting went for this: "My kid's acting really out of sorts lately. He's listening to some awful music, and spending all his time on the computer listening to bands I don't understand. Hey, let's make a three minute long story out of it."

I'm all about trying to get people to stop listening to My Chemical Romance, but this really isn't the way to go about it.

Not Everyone In Vegas Wants The Association In Town.

This season's All-Star Game, and any others held out in the Nevada desert are likely to be the only NBA games held out in Lost Wages for a while, because commish David Stern wants the casinos to knock off the NBA betting if a team is to relocate there or given to the city.

And via the AP (on SI's web site), we learn that's just find with the chief executive of several big Vegas casinos. Terry Lanni, who's in charge of the MGM Mirage, thinks the game can stay out of Vegas, as far as he's concerned, because the crowd it attracts aren't good for business:

"The gang-bangers and others who came for purposes other than attending the game, they weren't very good for Las Vegas," Lanni told The Associated Press.

Lanni said there was little action on the gambling tables the day of the game.

"In talking to our casino hosts, a number of people stayed in their villas and suites. They felt uncomfortable," he said.

MGM Mirage's first-quarter earnings fell below expectations, and they're blaming the "gangbangers and thugs" associated with All-Star weekend (supposedly). The AP says Lanni backed off, saying his statement only applied to the All-Star game. For his trouble, Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is trying to assuage Lanni, but it's probably safe to say that his concern (misplaced as it is, given various accounts of the violence that occurred, and the amounts thereof) doesn't only go for the All-Star game.

(Photo: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Ron-Ron Will Use This As Fodder For His Advice Column.

Well, at least the animal abuse charges got dropped. Erstwhile Kings forward Ron Artest pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence charges, and has received a sentence of community service and a 10-day work project. His wife Kimsha seems willing to take him back, and the judge has dropped most of the restrictions from seeing her and their children, so I assume he's moving back into his Loomis mansion relatively soon.

The problem is that we really don't know whether Artest's time in Sacramento has run out or not. All recent signs with the Kings would say yes, despite the declaration of "no immediate plans" to trade him in the AP copy. Eric Musselman got axed, Mike Bibby is already being talked about again as trade bait, and the Maloof brothers may be thinking that Ron-Ron's off the court trouble aren't worth his usually steady on-court play.

But who would take Artest at this point? He's a good defender and can put in a double-double on a regular basis, but there are quite a few players in the league who can do that, maybe not with as much intensity and drive, but with a lot fewer concerns over PR and off-court distractions. That's two teams in a row that he's floundered on or sunk. Terrell Owens got a third chance, but T.O. isn't near the notoriety of Artest, for the brawl at the Palace at Auburn Hills. I'm not so sure anyone will actually pick him up if the Kings say it's been real, it's been fun, but it ain't been real fun.

It's instructive to look at Artest and Stephen Jackson side-by-side after their respective trades to California: Jackson's crazy is still around -- and surfaces sometimes -- but it hasn't cut into his work; he was a big part of the Warriors' upset of the Mavs, coming through big in Game Six. Artest's crazy envelops him, defines who he is -- it's almost completely consumed his status as a ballplayer.

(P.S. Honestly, I think if someone had hit me in the face with a beer cup and I was an NBA player, I'm not so sure I wouldn't have gone looking for them in the stands either. So, I can't throw a ton of stones at Artest there, but it was still an ugly thing to watch.)

Stealing Signals: Manny Being Manny.

Red Sox 8, Mariners 7 - Having Manny Ramirez get locked on is a scary proposition for a team already atop its division and its usual rival struggling badly. Last thing anyone else in the AL East needs is Manny hitting. Seattle got the brunt of it, with Ramirez hitting two homers and bailing out another mediocre start from Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Pirates 4, Brewers 2 - A good streak has to have bumps every once in a while, and the Brewers hit one, giving up a four-run seventh inning to the Pirates that eventually won the game for the crew from Pittsburgh.

Mets 9, Arizona 4 - The Mets like Chase Field in Phoenix, having won 11 straight games there, and when you have David Wright (expected, kind of, despite a slump) and Damion Easley (not expected; he's still in the league?) hitting three-run homers, it makes it easy for a pitcher, like, say, Tom Glavine to get bailed out by wailing on the Arizona bullpen.

Yankees 4, Rangers 3; Yanks 5, Rangers 2 - Doubleheader sweep for the Yanks in this battle of last place teams, and getting Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte back to give them starts like they did can only help, although the holes in the rest of the rotation still run rampant. Mariano Rivera grabs both saves for the fifth time in his major league career. More importantly, the Yanks climb out of the cellar, swapping spots with the Orioles.

Phillies 9, Giants 7 - Matt Cain has an off day for the Giants, and the Phillies made him pay for it. Adam Eaton got hit up too, but not quite as badly, and had the run support (especially from Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley) to cover up his mistakes.

(Photo: AP/Winslow Townson)

NBA Playoff Impressions: Yay Area.

Warriors 111, Mavericks 86 - Sheer, utter, and complete domination of an opponent, pummeling into submission, even through injury to the driving force of the team. Stephen Jackson emptied everything in his arsenal, with 21 of his 33 points total coming from outside the arc, and Mr. Playoff Beard himself, though hurt, still chipped in 20 and made the Mavs play him seriously. Double figures from Andris Biedrins, Jason Richardson, and Matt Barnes just kept piling on. After games three and four, you had an idea that Golden State had this series, but you never imagined the clampdown looking like that, with an utterly dejected and somewhat lifeless Dallas team looking at 20+ point leads in the third quarter. Are the Warriors a championship team? Don't know. Doubt it. Can they make some serious noise in the rest of this playoff season? Fuck yes, and I'll be happy to cheer them on while they do it.

(As for Dirk, enjoy your MVP as you're awarded it somewhere besides in the middle of a playoff game. Eight points and eight points only, in a game you needed to show up for again.)

Jazz 94, Rockets 82
- Victories by the home team only remain the rule in this series. Something has to break -- either T-Mac will shake off his playoff exit streak come Saturday, or the dull, old pick-and-roll style will survive for another round, and the fear of a Jazz-Spurs series at any point down the line is absolutely devastating to even consider. Houston, please win, if only for the sake of those of us who have no particular rooting interest, yet would still like to see a Western Conference finals worth watching.

(Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)