Monday, November 27, 2006


There's been a lot writen about the new massive contracts being handed out around the league. People are now gushing that even Manny Ramirez's contract looks reasonable these days, and he may indeed be traded. But where was all of this money back in July when the Yankees picked up Abreu and his contract, some $30 million over the next two years?
Boston just bid $51 million to speak to Matsuzaka, will sign him to a further hugh deal, and is expected to sign J.D. Drew for gigantic money as well. Houston finished only a few games out, and just spent $100 million on Carlos Lee. Both the Angels and Dodgers, who just paid $50 million each for a pair of overrated centerfielders, were also in close races. Abreu hit .330/.419/.507 over the final two months of the season, and these offseason developments just make that deal look better. As for the Phillies, they tried to use the money saved for a Soriano bid, and today settled on using it on Adam Eaton.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Righteous anger leads to quick disinterest.

So I was all set to break out the assorted high-horse, pulpit, and soapbox cliches and get all angry about the redeath of punk, via the Dead Schembechlers, who are currently featured afront after months of deadspin coverage. Of course punk is dead, this is not in question, I planned to begin, and even had some clever links to support it. But it turned out that punk was just too dead for me to get properly angry or verbose, even about such an obvious disaster (see how long you can last before you lunge for mute). Their lead singer's named after the real thing. They know how to mimic old album covers and use Bollocksesque fonts. And, oh yeah, they're fucking obsessed with college football.
But, yeah, try as I might to be relevant, I couldn't help but come off as some asshole defending an ancient and tattered standard. So I'll just post a video mocking that guy, and decide to root for Michigan. Punk - beyond dead since probably the 1890s.

Guest Post by Frut Skeftan

This weekend I had the unhappy privilege of attending a basketball game at Goucher. If you haven't heard of it, don't worry. Neither have I. It turns out that it's a game played by two teams with an orange ball, and other than that I can't help you. I have no way of making distinctions between basketball and Wiffleball, though I know that they are both the spectator sports of choice for Jack Nicholson and Woody Allen.
Anyway, my Goucher-enrolled friend Cheri was performing with a dance troupe at the basketball game's halftime show, so I felt compelled to see parts of the game, and what I saw I did not like.
I knew, of course, to cheer for the home team (The Goucher Gophers--honestly), which I took to be the players with "Goucher" written on their jerseys. Every time they made a basket, I cheered the loudest, encouraging them to "Fuck 'Em Up!" I began to wonder, though, why so many members of the team were white and balding. Soon my attention was drawn to the scoreboard, where inexplicably points were racked up for "Guest" every time the Goucher team made a basket. Yes, it took a while, but I eventually realized that this was a game of Goucher alumni vs. present Goucher students. This explained the balding, but nothing could explain the white.
More importantly, I had clearly been rooting for the wrong team (the alumni). But it turned out that I had been merely demonstrating a keen eye, as the alumni absolutely clobbered the present students. It was a bloodbath.
So here's the question: What the hell? How bad must your basketball team be if you play yourself and lose? More importantly, why are we made to suffer through these exercises? At that point, it is basically like going to see an improv show: plenty fun for the performers, but embarrassing for friends, family, and spectators.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Fact #1 - I watch "Survivor". This is a difficult thing to admit, but a fundamental truth that is inescapable.
Fact #2 - I root for a college football team that was once in the Big East and is now in the ACC.
Fact #3 - On Thursday night, the same night that "Survivor" comes on, the Big East had its biggest match of the year thus far, with Rutgers matching up with Louisville in New Brunswick. Rutgers emerged undefeated, and has been put forward as a serious national championship contender, an unthinkable development no more than 2 years ago.

I was struck by a similarity between last Thursday's episode of "Survivor" and the Big East showdown. Sorry to go all Bill Simmons on you, but it was too obvious to pass up.

First, a primer. For those who don't watch "Survivor" and don't know the strategic nuances of the show (if you're burdened with antiquated things like "self respect"), the show is essentially divided into two strategic sections, pre-merge and post-merge. In the pre-merge section, the players are divided into two opposing tribes that compete in challenges - the loser of the challenge each week has to vote a player out of the game. In this section of the game, the most important thing is to win those challenges, because the tribe that goes into the merge with greater numbers can, theoretically at least, take down the other tribe's members one at a time. Post-merge the game becomes an every-person-for-themself competition, but usually the members of the tribe with numbers realize to one degree or another that its in their best interest to stick with their tribe as long as possible (this process is known as "Pagonging", after the original tribe that got decimated by Richard Hatch and his army of darkness because they were too stupid to vote in any sort of bloc).

On Thursday's episode the two tribes were gathered together and every person was given a choice that they had to make in 10 seconds - stick with their current tribe, or "mutiny" and join the other. Two members of Aitu stepped off the mat and joined Raro, the first time anyone has actually done this on the show (a couple of previous seasons had given players the same choice, but no one ever actually did it). Pre-mutiny, the tribes were at 6-6, so post-mutiny Raro had a commanding 8-4 advantage. It was lousy strategy (the players who mutineed will forever be branded as traitors, and no matter how much other people in their new tribe like them, suspicion will linger over them) but good TV, because all of a sudden you had one tribe (Aitu) wearing white hats, and the other tribe getting a collective black hat for harboring the traitors. I confess I was rooting for Aitu anyway, because I have a crush that may not be entirely nonsexual on Yul, but now it borders on pathological - I desperately want Aitu to win, despite having no stake in the game, simply because I want to see the good guys win and the bad guys get what's coming to them.

You can probably see where this is going. A few years ago the ACC raided the Big East for 3 of its best football teams - Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. All three willingly left what was considered a sinking ship for what would inevitably become a new powerhouse conference. The Big East, left with little choice, raided Conference USA and landed Louisville, Cincinnati and USF (along with Marquette and DePaul, but only the former three play football) and were able to hold on to their BCS Bowl berth by the skin of their teeth.

Everything was going reasonably according to plan until this year. The Big East became a stronger basketball conference but in the sport where the big money is, football, they had become something of an embarrassment to the BCS, a conference of also-rans that was guaranteed an undeserved spot in a big-time January bowl. The ACC, meanwhile, had moved up to the big boy table with traditional powers like the SEC and the Big Ten.

In January, Big East champion West Virginia beat SEC champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, a game which was essentially a home game for Georgia in that it was played in Atlanta.

The 2005 Hokies, an enigma all year, lost to the 8-4 Florida State Seminoles, an inferior team, in the ACC championship game. The Seminoles would lose to Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

Which brings us to this season, and Thursday night in particular. The ACC is a mess - a two-loss Georgia Tech team will most likely meet either Wake Forest or Maryland in the conference championship game. There is not a single team in the conference that has been a legitimate contender for the national title this year, the only major conference which can make that claim. Meanwhile the Big East has had, at various times, WVU, Louisville or Rutgers make a serious claim for national championship game respect.

There is no doubt in my mind that, at this moment, the Big East is better than the ACC. That is a fairly inescapable fact, and a remarkable turnaround for a conference left for dead after the defections. The mutineers, the black hats, are losing. The white hats are winning. The ACC got what bad guys deserve - a down year across the board for the big 3 (VT, FSU, Miami) and a conference title holder who will probably be a huge underdog in the Orange Bowl. And the Big East has gotten what the good guys deserve - a spot in the national championship debate, and three strong football teams who can easily rival the ACC's big 3. I might not be able to be all that happy about this, but it certainly makes for a good story.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bubba would've had it!

The unlikely collision brothers each found a new team today. Sheffield to the Tigers is big news, but slipping deservedly under the radar was Bubba Crosby signing a one year deal with the Reds. It's tough to trade a hitter like Sheffield, who's as safe a bet for 35-100-.300 as anyone in the game, but I'm told the prospects are quality, and have seen the name Verlander invoked several times for young Humberto Sanchez. As for the disastrous Crosby, he's only one tiny Jr. Griffey injury away from 250 abs.

Oh Ericka.

In honor of Erick Dampier's vintage performance tonight against the Suns (four minutes, two points, and three personal fouls through halftime) Faster Than A Shark presents a full length feature on Dampier. It is in fact a paper I wrote at the end of last year, just before the NBA Finals. I was trying to make up a sportswriting class I'd failed in the fall. Of course, I didn't pass the class, but, enjoy.

[Note that I actually provided sources since it was for a class. They were preserved when copied onto this.]

Erick Dampier grew to 6-11 and 235 pounds and went to Mississippi State to play basketball. He took his team to the Sweet Sixteen in 1995, and then, in his junior season, he helped his fifth seeded school to the Final Four and declared for the draft. But it was when he strode across the stage, selected tenth overall by the Indiana Pacers ahead of future stars Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Jermaine O’Neal, that the story of Erick Dampier really began. Towering over NBA commissioner David Stern, he appeared in white checkered dress pants, a carefully kept goatee, and red blazer that refined the term unfortunate[i]. It was a disastrous fashion choice that would later come to symbolize his career: in the NBA, Erick Dampier would stand out for all the wrong reasons.

As a center due to his tremendous size, Dampier plays arguably the most important position on the court; the center stands close to the basket (often called ‘playing the post’), and is expected to receive passes and score on high percentage lay-ups and dunks. A skilled center should also be a dominant rebounder and shot blocker. Due to the combination of size and skill required to excel as an NBA center, there are at any time only a very few number of stars at the position in the league. The impact of a stellar center on his team is incredible, as shown in the championships and accolades attained by such players as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O’Neal. Throughout his career, Dampier has never been one of the five or so best in the league, but he has always been close, just good enough to put in a good performance against a lowly sub-par team but never at the level of the big boys. It has made for a frustrating career.

While the center is the largest and most imposing player on his team, in practice this can mean that he is also the slowest and most immobile. A poor center, for all his size, can be little better than a target for smaller, more talented players to dunk over. As the primary shot blocker, the center is also the team’s quickest accumulator of fouls, nipping the arms of driving guards and often having to sit for long stretches to avoid fouling out. Small, flashy guards are fan favorites; centers are often noticed more for their shortcomings[ii] (bobbled rebounds, foul trouble) than their contributions (boxing out, screens), and can, with their huge size, become scapegoats and targets of a frustrated fan base. While these points are true of even the best at the position, Dampier has been accused of them and defined by them his entire career.

Dampier was traded early in his career from the Indiana Pacers to the Golden State Warriors, a team that has famously missed the playoffs every year since its early nineties firesale. He put up a respectable 11.8 points per game (ppg) and 8.7 rebounds per game (rpg) for a terrible 1998 team that finished at 19-63[iii], but regressed from that production in his next five years for the club, which never posted a winning record. In 2004, his contract year Dampier was much improved, playing with a new intensity and averaging 12.3 points and 12 rebounds. Although there was skepticism about his effort rising with his chance to leave Golden State, Dampier was beginning to be regarded as part of the inner circle, one of the top two or three centers in the league[iv]. Dampier actually described himself as the number two center in the NBA, second only the O’Neal[v]. Regarded as an emerging star, it was time for Dampier to leave the hopeless Warriors and seek a free agent contract with a more successful team.

That summer, Mark Cuban, eccentric billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, a team plagued for years by the lack of even an average center[vi], produced a seven-year, $73 million dollar contract offer as part of a sign and trade. The Mavericks boasted one of the league’s best, improving players in Dirk Nowitzki and a talented collection of supporting players, and were seemingly only one All-Star center away from Finals contention. Unfortunately, just as he had in Golden State, Dampier arrived to break up a successful combination. Dallas had a free agent of its own that summer but decided to sign Dampier instead of resigning point guard Steve Nash, the wild-haired Canadian All-Star and local favorite, who went to rival Phoenix. While Dampier’s statistics regressed to pre-2004 levels, Nash was famously revitalized in the desert, winning the league MVP Award.

The Mavericks drew the Houston Rockets and then Nash’s Phoenix Suns in the playoffs. Dampier’s comment from a year earlier that he was the second best center in the league was proved ridiculous by his sluggish play against Houston’s Yao Ming and Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire, but when confronted he maintained, “I said last year I was the second-best, and I stick by what I said. Nothing’s changed.[vii]” The Nash-for-Dampier swap was showcased on a national stage when the two teams faced off in the second round. Nash averaged 30.3 points, 12 assists, and an astonishing 6.5 rebounds; Dampier, 7 points and 7.5 rebounds. It was the culmination of a season of frustration and national ridicule for Dallas fans.

Though the team had also underperformed in other areas, massive media and fan criticism surrounded Dampier going into the 2005-2006 season. He was called out on court by Nowitzki for his poor play and his signing was widely regarded as a disaster. Bill Walton compared him to Shawn Bradley, the awful center he replaced.[viii] Shaquille O’Neal called him “soft[ix]”. A 2006 preview said of the center, “The megadeal Dampier was egregiously given will go down as the final fiscal atrocity that killed the Mavericks. He's slow and predictable at both ends, and barely serves a purpose for this team.[x]” Richie Whitt of the Dallas Observer summed up Dampier’s first season as a Maverick with the following:

But mostly Dampier was, a slow-footed, sloppy-handed big man who fouled too much and contributed too little on a team knocked out of the playoffs by Nash and the Suns in the second round. He missed 21 games with a stress fracture in his foot. Shot only 60 percent from the free-throw line. Turned assists into turnovers with mishandles near the hoop. And, in a paltry post-season, he was shut down by the Rockets' Yao and called out by teammate Dirk Nowitzki after being outscored an embarrassing 40-0 by the Suns' Stoudemire in Game 1. [xi]

Probably as a result of his infamous ‘second best’ comment, Dampier continued to take a beating in the press from Shaquille O’Neal, who is not only the best center of his generation but one of the most media-friendly players. Once when coming off injury he said that he “played like Erick Dampier”[xii], and has also noted that Erick, or “Erica[xiii]”, would be a dominant center in the WNBA. Jabs like this echoed around the country as Dampier, with increased television exposure, uninspired play, and a monstrous contract became a national punch line and a player regarded as one of the worst signings in recent times, in the unwanted company of the likes of Chan Ho Park and Albert Belle.

The 2006 season would prove another ugly one for the much maligned center. Despite his salary (Dampier made $8,662,500 this year[xiv]), Erick lost his starting role and was replaced by the younger, taller DeSagana Diop, despite Diop’s utter lack of an offensive game. Dampier appeared in interviews to be indifferent to the demotion, prompting scathing articles from the Dallas media questioning his competitiveness, bringing up all the issues yet again: his poor play, giant contract, and replacement of the popular and energetic Steve Nash, who won a second MVP Award.

Dampier turned in a good performance against Memphis, a team without even the semblance of a quality center[xv], in the first round of the playoffs, but by the middle of the second round had been replaced by Diop again. Bill Walton referred to Diop as the “unsung hero” of the deciding Game Seven against the Spurs for his excellent defense against Tim Duncan and crucial offensive rebounding after coming in for Dampier. The franchise’s $73 million man watched the end of the most important game in Mavericks history from the bench. Matched up against Nash’s Suns again with a trip to the Finals on the line, Dampier played only 24 minutes and got into only two games in a series the Mavericks won 4-2. Once again $73 million sat on the bench as the clock wound down.

Watching Dampier play it is easy to see his flaws, but just as easy to see the toll years of criticism have wreaked on the once-promising young man out of Mississippi State. None of his movements are graceful, and the weight of expectation is almost tangible. Every play, from box out to bobbled pass to awkward shot attempt, is a referendum on his contract, competitiveness, and worthiness. Every little failure, a dropped pass, missed throw, or unfortunate foul, is magnified by the howling fans and historical record. When Dampier trudges back to the bench after picking up a third or fourth foul, it is possible to imagine him wading through the piles of criticism he’s received. A quick pan to him sitting on the bench reveals a glazed, faraway stare. He has deep, sunken eyes and always wears a serious, almost hurt expression. Even his nickname, “Damp” is underwhelming at best. What a disaster.



[iii] All stats from













Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's Election Day!

"Shave your beard and go vote again."

No, that was yesterday! Today is Matsuzaka deadline day, in which the teams have until 3 PM to offer bushels of money to a team named the Seibu Lions. I'm told it's going to come down to something like $30 million from one of the New York teams, Boston, Chicago, or Crazy Tom Hicks, but also that we're not going to know the winner for days or weeks, just like the Virginia Senate election. I'm thinking I'd much rather go with the unknown and possibly outstanding Japanese pitcher than known regressor Barry Zito, who's been playing in a pitchers park with great defense, curveball not withstanding. But of course we could be looking at another Contreras here. What clever epithet will Larry Luchiano think of next?

Here's Faster Than A Shark's special Matsuzaka Anticipation Playlist EP:
  • Mystery Dance - Elvis Costello
  • Mystery Train - Elvis Presley
  • The Murder Mystery - The Velvets
You get the idea. I do not know what is going to happen.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Uh, you guys?

From UniWatch, the Celtics' new memorial patch for Red Auerbach:

Surely someone has missed something obvious.

I understand that green and black are the team's traditional colors, but simply coloring the clover red would be the clearest way to go here. As it stands, the patch looks like one of those psychological tests where you're supposed to state the color instead of the word (the correct answer here, and thus the triumphant step closer to sanity, is green.) Of course, had I a voice in the design, I'd ditch the whole clover motif and come up with something that looked closer to this.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The lost art

Whenever some old fart starts waxing nostalgic about how athletes in his day were better, stronger, had healthier skin and constitutions and were more dynamic in bed, I usually suggest to them that they are missing Bill O'Reilly and they should go turn on the TV and stop talking. Or I would if I wasn't so busy thinking about what corner of their mattress they hid their fortune under. But one thing that those oldies definitely have right is nicknames. Nicknames used to be awesome; nowadays they're just a lazy-assed contraction of a player's first or last name. Jeff Bagwell, a surefire Hall of Famer and owner of the most ridiculous batting stance ever forged by man, is called "Bags" by his teammates. Bags! This would be acceptable if he had a penchant for carrying peoples' luggage unasked-for, or liked to steal hobos' bindles. But as far as I know he does neither of those things, he simply has a nickname that is a crappier version of his last name. A sorry state of affairs. So in honor of a lost art, I would like to celebrate some of my favorite nicknames, one at a time. Here are some undeniable truths:

- Alliteration is always good.
- Old-timey sounding nicknames beat modern-sounding ones. If it sounds like something Mr. Burns would say, it gets a big fat stamp of approval.
- More words doesn't necessarily make a nickname better, but they can't hurt. Two and three words are common for older players, but if you have a 4 or 5 word nickname, you've made the big-time.
- Most importantly: the best nicknames are descriptive. They should conjure up an image, and that image should have something to do with the player.

So, on with my first nickname: The Donora Greyhound

This one will probably be only moderately familiar to non-hardcore baseball fans - this player has a much more famous (and less interesting) nickname. Nicknames with the form "The ____ _____" are not uncommon for top-20 all-time type players. He is one of two Hall of Fame caliber players who hails from Donora, Pennsylvania, and the other player could very easily have been given this nickname himself. Along with Hank Aaron and Tris Speaker, he is the most underappreciated transcendent star in baseball history. Oh, and he rocks a mean harmonica. So if you didn't know, the answer is him.

Back at the altar of Google Image Search.

Just briefly, to mark the start of the NBA season. Other sites have predictions. We have several, but ultimately far too few, Thorwald-blinding flash bulbs.