Thursday, December 21, 2006

Brawls Are Good.

It hurts me to have to lead with this picture, which is the second most overblown thing about that black year of 2004. Either way, there've been two close Knicks wins since those famous fisticuffs, which besides the unquanitifiable results of pulling the team together, had the immediate effect of removing Nate Robinson from the team. Robinson is a man about whom cliches clash for dominance. The air surrounding the young guard is thick with the sounds of conflicting idioms and overwraught, breathless sportscasting.

Basketball players should be taller than actors.

He is somehow, both a scrappy undersized underdog and a ballhogging malcontent thug, a high-flying dunking sensation and a non-passing point guard wrestling in the stands. This season we've seen him block Yao Ming and also be called for travelling on an egregious showboating dunk attempt. He leaps for unlikely rebounds, and throws up impossible attempts into coverage that clatter off the rim. He's often to be seen arguing calls and screaming at opponents. Somehow his size has turned him into an emotional fan favorite, and he's cheered nearly everytime he touches the ball. This sentiment won him the dunk contest, despite an infamous fourteen misses. We'll see if it survives the brawl, in which he played the largest part and pretty clearly instigated.
I'm in the unfavorable camp on Robinson. He has really poor shot selection, clock skills, and is clearly a shooting guard, not a point guard. (For those without a game-by-game opinion, I can point to his 1.5 apg.) The Knicks are overloaded with guards, and Robinson bleeds playing time from the famous two plus Richardson and Crawford, all of whom are better players. So he's 5-9 and can dunk. I'd prefer if he'd pass.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Great Finds of the Past, Part II: Monday Night Football

In the first installment of this series (otherwise known as things I quickly scribbled down while failing a sportswriting class a year ago) we examined Erick Dampier. Today, we watch as your bitter, possibly drunken writer watches Monday Night Football, and desperately tries to be Hunter S. Thompson. I hope I don't always sound like this much of an asshole. Pictures added after the fact.

I turn on my television to watch Brett Favre get sacked. Well, that’s kind of what I was expecting. I don’t follow football much, but I do follow sports, and I know enough to remember that the old man’s team is struggling this year. A quick look at the standings shows the Packers at 2-7, and their opponents, the ready made villains of the old-man-against-it-all story line, to be the Minnesota Vikings, an uninspiring 4-5.

But hey, he throws a touchdown, which proves to be a hard-to-explain catch. Donald Driver has his back to Favre as the ball is thrown. A stride or two ahead of his defender, Driver sees the incoming pass over his shoulder and leaves the ground, spinning like some sort of man-ballerina so that the pass hits him square in the chest. ABC then shows ten replays and a graphic with the ‘pass speed’, after which Madden compares it to the speed of a baseball pitch in a way I can’t understand. Driver leaps into the first row of stands where he is repeatedly slapped on the back and ass by screaming fans that appear to be clad entirely in replicas of his uniform and gesture ridiculously at the camera. Forms of lower primate come immediately to mind. Not like I know anything about monkeys – good for them, they’re passionate fans, I’ve heard the stories of the long year’s wait for tickets, I think they won a super bowl recently, I remember watching some half-hour rousing deep-voiced documentation of the legend of the Ice Bowl one boring winter afternoon, bodies flying everywhere in sub-zero temperatures – this is devotion, 2-7 though they may be.

ABC’s next segment is ‘Mic’d Up’, featuring a Viking player named Sharper yelling repeatedly at his teammates, “It gonna be a long day. It gonna be a long day.” It takes me a quarter and a half to realize that Daunte Culpepper, the Vikings franchise player of their own (Daunte Culpepper was Donovan McNabb, i.e., a running quarterback, before Mike Vick was Donovan McNabb, see, I know just enough about this sport to hold my own in casual conversation) is not Daunte Culpepper at all, but someone named Johnson. Apparently Culpepper is injured. Well what do I know, they all look the same in their purple infused white uniforms and shiny purple helmets. With purple socks, purple sleeves, purple numbers, and what looks like a purple fanny-pack/muff hanging from Culpepper neé Johnson’s torso/abdomen/crotch region. Yes, purple. And the Packers wear green and yellow. What a joke.

There comes a point in every football game where you get tired of John Madden. With 3:07 left in the first half, I have reached that point. Screw this, it’s going on mute, I’m worshipping at the feet of the great goddess shuffle for at least a few minutes. With a minute plus left, there’s a Viking interception at midfield returned for a touchdown. But then, and I had to turn the sound back up for this, there occurs that most frustrating element of a football game - a disputed call. We get to see the play another few load of times, and a split screen showing both coaches looking worried (hilariously, the shaved head of Tice, the Viking coach, features a pencil behind his ear. I think he was hired for his resemblance to James Gandolfini more than anything.), before the official in his clown suit dourly addresses the booing crowd. Number Four lives up to the legend I’ve heard of and snaps a long touchdown through the middle to Driver again, who jumps back into the stands again as Madden enthusiastically fellates Favre. “At some point Brett Favre says, I don’t need patience, I need touchdowns,” slobbers Madden. “You can guess against Brett Favre but you better be right, or you’re going to get burned!” he exhorts further. The Vikings interrupt the flowing praise, which makes me imagine Madden and his bouncing, drooling jowls doing things I’d rather not describe, by trying to get to field goal range, even though Al Michaels and a colorful graphic tell us that the last field goal of this length at Lambeau Field came back in 1965. Improbably, the game got interesting as soon as I turned the sound off.

At halftime, Tim McGraw sings a country song with rhyming lyrics about this week’s football highlights. I would relate some of the lyrics but I was too busy slitting my wrists and expiring all-too-slowly in a tortured heap on the floor. As they say where I come from, what a fucking disaster. It makes me wish that Darryl Strawberry had cut off Tug McGraw’s penis and sold it to an underground organ dealer to feed his crack habit back in the depths of the eighties. It makes me wish that Tim had contracted double-syphillis leprous AIDS while experimenting with designer cowboy hats and was hit by a bus, then kept alive intravenously until a hideous slow aching demise after being unplugged. It makes me wish that I was born deaf, mute, and in Pakistan. By the time they play The Stooges’ ‘Raw Power’ over purple and yellow highlights, I’ve had enough. Is nothing sacred anymore? Have even Iggy Pop and the insane Asheton brothers sold out in this dark and ugly age? What was, in 1972, too loud, confrontational, and chaotic to sell at all, when Bart Starr watching brew guzzling reactionaries gave their state to Nixon by 150,000 votes, is now being nodded along to by their drunken, Tim McGraw supporting descendants. Iggy Pop lived on heroin and used to cut himself on stage, and now he is the soundtrack to Middle America’s weekly men-in-tights festival?

“Everybody’s always tryin to tell me what to do
Don’t you try
Don’t you try to tell me what to do,”

he urgently howls, but the song fades out after thirty seconds and Madden welcomes us back to the second half. Which will have to go on without me. One has been quite enough.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Courtesy Lou (and because he's burying the Mariners in their most recent playoff appearence).

During the 3rd quarter of tonight's Knick game, the broadcast came out of a commercial with Al Trautwig announcing he was about to interview one of the most famous soccer players in the world. The spectator turned out to be a delightfully incomprehensible Wayne Rooney, who was attending his first NBA game. As the Knicks were, naturally, down twenty points, he compared the booing he'd been hearing to the booing of his own crazed fans, and his tangled muttering was very Mickey O'Neil.
What made this little minute spot memorable, and blog worthy, was the fact that the worthless, infantile Jimmy Fallon was clearly visible the whole time, sitting a few seats from Rooney. Plainly Fallon did not recognize Rooney, and he grew hilariously irritated at being ignored over the course of the proceedings. It made for a lovely little scene.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Guest Post by Shave Wendell

As an avid follower of how white America perceives hip-hop, I was certainly made aware of the growing movement to credit Muhammad Ali with creating rap. As a person who never played sports in high school, I think this is completely unfair and generally mean-spirited.
Ali gets no small amount of credit for his numerous accomplishments (didn't he knock a guy out in a fight really quickly? Didn't he defeat Rocky Balboa? Wasn't his biopic better than Balboa's?) His quote about floating and stinging is basically repeated ad infinitum by everyone who has ever been about to punch a guy. His moral and religious anti-war stance really gave a long-needed "fuck you" to the man from athletes, long known to associate with politicians.
When I was in high school, there was a guy who was a star football player. Let's call him Johnny Athlete. He was blond and tall and had blue eyes and muscles bigger than a printout of all the Battlestar Galactica fan fiction you could find. He was dating a certain Jane Beautiful, a girl with whom I'd been in love since kindergarten. She, needless to say, was a shiksa goddess who managed to retain the same set of freckles throughout adolescence. While it was later suggested that they were practitioners of the Cleveland Steamer, at the time they were nothing if not all-American and glorious. This was what Hitler and Nixon were always talking about. For God's sake, she tried to get the National Honor Society to start a schoolwide abstinence program. Are you sort of getting the picture here?
Anyway, the reason I mention this here is that in second grade, we learned to write poetry (by the way: teaching children to write poetry is about 1,000% more dangerous than teaching them about sex, if every awful person who wore all black and listened to Green Day and went to my middle school is any indication). I devoted the class period to a series of rhyming couplets devoted to Jane Beautiful. I can't remember the whole thing, but a couple of the lines were "She is my only one/My love for her weighs a ton," "She is my Juliet/But she think I am 'stupet,'" and "My love for her will never end/But to her I'm just a friend." See what I mean about it being dangerous?
Anyway, skip forward about eight years and she's steaming along with John Athlete. My frustration at being an overtall Jewish kid (the first in my grade to get glasses) with a sense of humor most informed by Robert Benchley led me to music (I abandoned this soon, until I got involved in two abortive musical endeavors in high school: 1) My friend Smocko and I tried to write a screenplay that hinged on the emotional power of a song about virginity, 2) Smocko and I were roped into a band with our friend Zoso [I was assigned bass guitar, an instrument I had never touched; Smocko was drums, same situation]), a path I believe many took. If one really looks at the people who most informed music in this century, they are not an attractive group of people. They are mostly awkward dudes who realized their disadvantage and grabbed guitars and suddenly started getting laid.
This is a lot of work. And it is because of the Ali/Jagger dichotomy that it is unreasonable to credit Ali with creating rap. Ali's already got plenty going for him; would it kill us to give Afrika Bambaataa his due?


Friday, December 08, 2006

As a schoolgirl

Elitism is a thing of many forms. Elitism stands in line at the supermarket and chuckles at the dime novels and tabloid rags; elitism pauses, irritated, before explaining the background of Cory Lidle. Elitism lurks in a child's rejection of an ill-considered gift by an absentee uncle, judges half-glimpsed shirts on passing teenagers, reaches back and remembers national capitals and names of paintings. You know it's only my opinion, it may be right or wrong, but I think you'll find elitism at the Grand Canyon at sundown.

It is an unusual thing these days to be unabashedly excited about your team's transactions. Certainly some fanbases are unrelentingly bitter, and some others can't even address their team's offseason follies. In an era of instant internet analysis and statistical understanding, intelligent option weighing, usually toward the negative, is the order of the day. Rarely does one throw away his rational skeptism and embrace a trade or signing. But I am incapable of feeling anything but excellent about this recent event.

Today, for once, I can buy into glory-days propaganda and winning attitude bluster. I feel both like an old-timey hack sportswriter in my willingness to embrace any 'makeup' or 'proven' or 'true' cliche about Andy Pettite, and like the little kid I was when he first started pitching for my team in my instant, unquestioning satisfaction. Am I concerned about his 108 ERA+ in a vastly inferior league last year, or his recent injury history, or his $16 million for only one year? Not at all. Suddenly a rotation that was competant is now strong, and a city, to my mind (and no doubt, FJM will have an Eckstein-caliber overload in the next few days) is saved. (I lay claim to that cliche now, 10 minutes after this news item was posted on espn and mlb. I assure you it will not be the last time you'll hear it.)
As for actual baseball impact, Mussina-Wang-Pettite leaves Johnson and Igawa as reasonable back of the rotation questions, and the punchline that is Carl Pavano comfortably rehabbing. And then, of course, there is the awesome, ancient, primeval all-timer force that this signing implies the lingering, possibly until May, possiblity of. I can't help but be gloriously, uncharacteristically estatic. I'm talking, of course, about Jack Torrance.

(If you got the reference at the beginning, why then you, too, are an elitist, and the best kind at that.)

I am sorry that you missed it.

Unfortunately for most, TNT guessed wrong last night (or, I suppose, sometime this summer) and chose to broadcast what became a standard, down-tempo, defensive struggle Detroit win at Dallas last night, instead of Suns at Nets. Rarely have I so enjoyed the privilege of living near the fetid, Springsteen-producing swamps of New Jersey as I did yesterday, in catching the 4th highest scoring game in the history of the league, Suns over Nets 161-157 in two overtimes.
It is often said that the way to beat the Suns is to slow down the game and try to play post basketball against them, which worked for the Spurs in the 2005 playoffs and almost did for the Clippers last year. Dallas finally took them down playing a hybrid of the Suns' uptempo offense, due largely to an unstoppable Dirk Nowitski. But last night the Nets had clearly decided to match their opponents' speed and creativity for the entire game.

It was a back and forth layup contest between probably the two best point guards of the era, and a look at their statistics doesn't even come close to showing how good this game was. Kidd tied Wilt Chamberlien for third on the career triple doubles list near the end of regulation, but more significant in my eyes he proved a worthy adversary for the endlessly praised Nash. The passing on both sides was absolutely stellar, and the score kept rising as the teams rarely missed after the third quarter.
An entire nerve racking hour passed after the timeouts started coming at the end of the fourth, just before Nash hit a tieing three with four seconds left. By the end of the first overtime, Carter, Stoudamire and Bell had all fouled out. Finally, near 11:30 et, three hours after the start and two and a half after I came in, the game ended in chaotic exhaustion, with Kidd dribbling off his foot and Barbosa missing a pass and having to leap above the sideline to save it. A wonderful game.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

#@%&*#! .

All week, the signal pyres flared up and quickly flickered out.

The Mariners had contacted the Boston Red Sox about acquiring the services of Manny Ramirez. When Boston countered by asking for 21-year-old centerfielder Adam Jones, right-handed closers J.J. Putz or Rafael Soriano and top catching prospect Jeff Clement, general manager Bill Bavasi -- staggeringly -- balked at the offer. Jason Varitek? Derek Lowe?


So Ted Lilly signs with the All Your Low OBP Guys Are Belong To Us Chicago Cubs for $10 million a year. Jesus Christ, his parents actually named him Theodore Fucking Roosevelt Lilly.

So Kelso native -- and Mariners target -- Jason Schmidt took a paycheck from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He's from Kelso. Homecoming spells dinner at Sizzler and the acrid smell of pulp.

So Barry Zito desires a six-year deal. When you are 28 years old and
talk to the seals, you command your own price. Except Bavasi doesn't like six-year deals. Or 28-year-old left-handers. Or seals.

With all other options exhausted, and the instatiable appetite for victory in the American League West that is Jose Guillen in camp, Bavasi's only recourse is to ... overpay for John Thomsen? Miguel Batista? Ship out Richie Sexson and Rafael Soriano as part of a three-team deal that would net Tim Hudson and Adam LaRoche?


But crapping themselves in a deal with the Braves still appears to be on the horizon.

Ladies and gentlemen, 27-year-old Horacio Ramirez -- whose injury history is at least as troubling as his career WHIP (1.402, and never below 1.343 in the "best" (read, most injury-plagued) of circumstances) and whose inability to strike out others (a career-high 100 strikeouts against 72 walks in a sabermetrically underwhelming 12-4 rookie campaign) makes him ... well, at best, one of the most magnanimous of the young guns.

At what cost? Only an equally injury-plagued righty with a K/9 just north of 9.0 and a career WHIP of 1.094 in 171 innings pitched -- who happens to turn 28 in but a few days.