Thursday, August 12, 2010

Let's try not to piss off the sleeping lions, Brandon Phillips

How many times have you been to the zoo, and you've seen some stupid kid or redneck pounding on the glass trying to get an animal's attention. Just last week, I was at the Jacksonville Zoo, and this 50-something year old bumpkin was thumping the glass, trying to get the attention of the Florida Panther that was on display.

Here's a better way to get a big cat's attention - throw the lady in the pen with him.

I'm not sure why Brandon Phillips thought it would be a good idea to piss in the face of a sleeping pit bull, but that's exactly what he did on Friday night, when speaking about his hatred towards the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I'd play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they're little bitches, all of 'em. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals."

Brandon, you may be a great athlete, and you may have been fired up to take down the Cardinals, but you don't get to talk smack unless you're top dog, and the Reds aren't there yet.

How appropriate that the Reds would go on to get swept at home by the Cardinals. To top it all off, Phillips went 2-for-14 in the series, with just 2 singles, an RBI, and a run scored. Paltry numbers for a guy who thought it was a good idea to run his mouth before a defining series. Now, the Reds find themselves on the outside looking in, once again.

Look, I love the Reds. Sure, they won the World Series in 1990, but I was barely 8 years old, and they have only made the playoffs once since then. I've sat through losing season after losing season since I became a fan in the late 80s. However, what Brandon Phillips did with his mouth was the worst thing he could have done for this team. The Reds are in the midst of a miraculous season. They continue to sneak up on a lot of teams, especially when they quietly go about their business. However, the one thing that Cincinnati has yet to prove is how to own the Cardinals, who now lead the season series 10 games to 5.

The Reds will get one last shot to prove that they can beat the Cardinals, on Labor Weekend in St. Louis. Both teams have relatively weak schedules between now and then, so I expect both teams to be within two games of each other once that series comes calling.

Brandon, take Teddy Rooselvelt's advice: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July - The Worst Time to be a Sports Fan

The middle of baseball season. The MLB All-Star game. The NBA free-agent market. The [British] Open Championship. The Tour de France. The middle of NASCAR season (yawn). The draining heat of the summer.

Is football season here yet?!

While a couple of those events do appeal to some, July has always been the most frustrating time to be a sports fan. Thankfully, the World Cup/Summer Olympics appear every other year, so that helps fill the massive sports void in the month of July.

The MLB all-star game?

I'll pass. This game has become one of the most pointless spectacles in all of sports. Since the MLB all-star game was first televised, this year's game received the WORST ratings in its entire history. Hey commisioner, I think it's time to either change the format or do away with the all-star game!

Thanks to commissioner Bud Selig, the MLB has tried to make the game more "meaningful," by awarding the winning side home-field advantage in the World Series (instead of awarding it to the team that has the better overall record). I'm sorry, but you can put a racing stripe on a turd, and yup, it's still a turd. Fan voting, lack of team management, it's all a crock.

The NBA free-agent market?

I could care less about the NBA. Thanks to the LeBron-athon, we were subjected to this massive buildup on ESPN - where will LeBron end up? Simple - wherever he can win a championship and make the most money. I'm sorry, but loyalty in professional athletics disappeared years ago, thanks to the players' unions. These athletes may love the game that they are a part of, but they play for two reasons - a paycheck and championship rings. Guess which one is more important?

The British Open, err, Open Championship? I'll admit, I love golf, and this is my favorite major. When courses are "tweaked" with the sole purpose of challenging PGA golfers, I find that exciting. I also find it exciting when professional golfers are struggling just to make par. However, I really enjoy it when the elements get in a golfer's way, which is what the pros typically face at the Open Championship. High winds, chilly conditions, rainy, all on a links-style course. These conditions level the playing field, which makes for a very interesting tournament.

However, Louis Oosthuizen's runaway victory made for a very boring final round. Kudos to Oosthuizen, this year's golfing cinderella story, but he led on Sunday by as many as 9 shots, and it was obvious that no one was going to challenge him.


Two thumbs down from the Fonz. Yup, wake me up when it's over.

The Tour de France? As much as I enjoy riding my road bike, watching the Tour for 3 weeks is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

The World Cup? More like the 17-year cicada broods. Americans get worked up for a couple of weeks, just in time for the World Cup, but once it's over, we quickly forget about the sport until the next World Cup comes along.

Yes, as cliché as this has become, I'm counting down the days until kickoff in Ohio Stadium. Just 42 more days!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tiger Woods - Buy or Sell?

We've always been told to buy low and sell high, right. Easier said than done, especially in the case of Tiger Woods. If TW was a tradeable commodity, I think he would have a number of brokers on the fence.

Let's face it, Tiger's stock is at an all-time low. We all know about the personal issues that he's put himself through. To top it all off, his wife will supposedly be paid $750 million (some reports have dropped that figure to $100 million) in the divorce settlement, as long as she doesn't go public with any of his "dirty laundry" (I'm still wondering if all of that infidelity was worth $750 million).

Aside from his decent run at the Masters to open the season (shooting 4 rounds of 70 or better and finishing tied for 4th), Tiger has been abysmal, especially for his high standards. He missed the cut at the Quail Hollow Championship, withdrew during the final round of the Players Championship, tied for 19th at the Memorial, tied for 4th at the US Open (shot over par in 3 of the 4 rounds), and tied for 46th at Sunday's AT&T National. Next week, he'll be flying to Scotland to play in the British Open at St. Andrews. The way he has been putting, I don't expect Tiger to contend, even though he finished in the top 5 at both majors this year.

Tiger Woods is, for lack of better words, a "curious" case. I have lost all respect for him as a human being, just like I lost all respect for Kobe Bryant after his extramarital incident (on a smaller scale). Woods is still an exceptional athlete, and I will continue to respect him as the greatest pure golfer of all time. That is the only admiration that he will ever get from me. Unlike athletes like Dennis Rodman, Ron Artest, and others like them, TW portrayed himself in a much different light - a very clean-cut, high-brow, gentlemanly, father of two. That's what sucks so much about Tiger's infidelity. He is the exact opposite of the image he was selling, and he is no different from any run-of-the-mill cheater. I have a good feeling that Tiger's father would be ashamed of the man he has become.

Deep down inside, I still hope that Tiger misses the cut in every event he plays in, but I do believe that he will rebound. I don't expect him to win any events this year, but next season will be a make or break year for TW. His struggles appear to be more mental than anything else (especially since he seems to be striking the ball pretty well).

Most of all, I hope that Tiger Woods learns from his own stupidity. We are all human, but when you have a track record like his, one can only hope that he finds a way to turn his personal life around.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Do Americans Really Care About Soccer?

In honor of their win over Brazil, Hup, Holland, Hup!

I have asked myself this question a lot in the past, and I usually come up with the same answer.


Let me preface this topic with a given. I realize that soccer/football/futbol is the most popular sport in the world, therefore I'm not trying to take anything away from the sport itself or its fans. I love the World Cup. I love the Dutch. Everytime the World Cup comes around, soccer fans (and myself) get all worked up in the US, and for good reason. The World Cup is essentially the Super Bowl of soccer. But to the casual American soccer fan, the sport just doesn't matter.

We see this same phenomenon during the Olympics every two years (alternating between winter and summer games). From figure skating and snowboarding to gymnastics and swimming, Americans aren't fans of these individual sports (generally speaking). However, their rooting interest is largely based on national pride.

Apply this same reasoning to the World Cup. As excited as Landon Donovan's game-winning goal versus Algeria was, if he doesn't score that goal, the Americans would have headed back to the States a week early, and we would have moved on with our lives (soccer wouldn't have come back into the fold for most fans until the 2014 World Cup). On the surface, it appeared that fans were going to talk about that goal for months. I even thought that the popularity of soccer had turned a corner in the US. Then reality slapped me in the face.

Let's turn back the clock. Before the US hosted the 1994 World Cup, soccer was on life-support here. FIFA was largely criticized internationally for choosing the US as host site, due to the US having such a weak soccer team, not to mention a lack of a professional soccer league. The US team quieted some of those critics when they traveled to Trinidad and Tobago and won 1-0 on the final day of World Cup qualifying to earn a spot in the 1990 World Cup, the first time they'd qualified since 1950 (a loss or a tie would have kept them out of the World Cup). Although they lost all three of their group matches, the US team took a huge step towards preparing for the 1994 World Cup.

The Americans were not expected to advance past the group stage in 1994, but a stunning upset win over Columbia vaulted them into the second round. The Americans were eliminated by eventual champion Brazil, 1-0, but the US team had shown everyone that they weren't to be overlooked anymore. The 1994 World Cup also set attendance records that still stand in World Cup history.

After the US team qualified for the round of 16 in 1994, soccer's popularity in the US was on the brink. MLS had its inaugural season in 1996 (10 teams), and has now grown to 16 teams (3 new franchises will be added next season). However, thanks to the flameout of the US team in France during the 1998 World Cup, soccer's popularity hit a brick wall. The Americans' 2002 World Cup quarterfinal run attempted to make up for their dismal 0-3 showing at the 1998 World Cup, but they bookended their miraculous 2002 showing with another winless performance during the 2006 World Cup.

The challenge for the US soccer team is much easier said than done - If you win, they will come. The Americans have never advanced past the group stage in back-to-back World Cups, and they've only made it beyond the round of 16 once in the modern era. The quickest way for the sport to gain popularity in the US is to become successful, which is simply dictated by winning.

Obviously, soccer isn't a diehard sport in the US. It is dominated by the "Big Four" - American football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey. We don't appreciate the details of the sport, for a number of reasons. It isn't high scoring. It isn't fast-paced. There is too much acting, plus it's not "physical" enough. There is too much subjectivity from the referee (when it comes to booking a player). The MLS is a second-class soccer league, compared to the UEFA leagues in Europe. The best American soccer players don't even play in the US.

The biggest factor contributing to the pace of soccer's growth in popularity, or lack thereof, in the US can be blamed on the competetive nature of the sport for children/teens. Until the 1980s, most high schools in the US did not offer soccer at all, and youth soccer programs were extremely rare until the 1970s. Thus, older generations of Americans living today grew up with virtually no exposure to the sport. According to some published reports, soccer is today's most popular youth sport. However, competetive soccer usually ends around high school where most kids prefer to play American football. In most areas of the US, high school soccer and American football are both played in the fall, so a student generally cannot devote time to both. The rise of sports like ice hockey and lacrosse, both similar in nature to soccer, are also drawing teenagers away.
Until star athletes like Tiger Woods and LeBron James chose to play soccer for a living, I don't think that soccer has much of a chance to supplant any of the Big Four in the US. Soccer has its niche, and that is fine with me.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The State of Baseball and The Big Red Machine

I've not been afraid to voice my frustrations with the current state of Major League Baseball. Call me simple and/or old-fashsioned, but the game has changed in a number of ways, and I'm not sure how it has kept my interest at all.

For starters, there are too many games. I'm sorry, but 162 games (excluding the playoffs) is just too many! The season has become painstakingly long, especially when you combine spring training and the playoffs with 162 regular season games. Yes, I know this was changed almost 50 years ago, but doesn't this take away the relevance of each individual game? Not to mention, with current ticket prices, how can most cities expect to sell out games? This is no longer cheap entertainment.

Games have also become much slower, largely due to the fact that pitchers have become more and more deliberate, especially in later innings. Don't get me wrong, I understand that there is plenty of mental strategy involved in baseball, but 20 years ago, the average game was 30+ minutes shorter.

This slowed pace can also be blamed on GMs attempting to protect their investments (starting pitchers). Just look at the dramatic drop in complete games in the last 20-25 years. Everytime a pitcher is taken out of a game, a new reliever has to come in and warm up. This process takes at least 5 minutes, for each pitching change.

For all of its faults, baseball still holds a place in my heart and many others. Because it's not as fast paced as football, basketball, or hockey, you can go to the ballpark, kick back with a beer, relax, and enjoy the game.

Of the four major sports in this country, baseball is the least socialistic, which is both a good and bad thing (as long as their are enough team owners out there that are willing to spend money). My friend Jon has always told me that if an MLB team (or any professional sports team) wants to have success, their owner has to be willing to invest in the team, no matter how much it costs. Owning a team is not just a business, but it is also a hobby, and you have to be willing to spend money in order to succeed in that business/hobby. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, he is exactly right. Just look at the New York Yankees.

All of this has led me to talk about the rejuvenation of the Cincinnati Reds. My dad was a fan of the Big Red Machine in the 1970s, and I became a big fan during their stunning sweep of the Oakland A's in the 1990 World Series. Since then, they've only made the playoffs once, after winning their division in 1995 (after sweeping the Dodgers in the NLDS, they were swept by the Braves in the NLCS). In the strike-shortened season of 1994, the Reds won the division, but there was no postseason. The Reds haven't finished a season with a winning record since 2000. Amazingly, they currently have a half-game lead over the Cardinals for 1st place in the NL Central division, which is the latest in a season the Reds have led the division since 1999.

Scott Rolen, hitting his 300th career home run, in Cincinnati's 7-3 win over the Phillies.

Cincinnati leads the NL in team batting average, runs scored, hits, RBIs, and slugging percentage (they are 2nd in on-base percentage, 3rd in home runs, and 4th in stolen bases). They have a young outfield (Gomes, Stubbs, Bruce), with a veteran leadership throughout the majority of their infield (Rolen, Cabrera, Phillips, Votto*, Hernandez). Edinson Volquez is scheduled to return to the rotation immediately following the All-Star break, which will really make this rotation even more competitive (Harang, Arroyo, Cueto, Leake).

The real shame in all of this is the fact that the city of Cincinnati has yet to realize that the Reds are a contender at this point (Tampa still has this problem, even after their great 2008 season). As of last night, the Reds are only averaging 22,600 fans per home game (Great American Ballpark seats ~42,000), which is the 3rd worst home attendance in the NL, ahead of the Marlins and Pirates.

I visited the old Riverfront Stadium for Reds games once or twice as a kid, but I finally attended a Reds game at Great American Ballpark a few weeks ago. My plea for the city of Cincinnati - please support your hometown team!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wimbledon's Marathon Match

For most US sports fans, tennis doesn't make their list of "must see" sporting events. If it weren't for the fact that I play regularly, I doubt I would enjoy watching it. However, for the many sports fans who missed out on Wimbledon's epic 1st round match between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, you missed something that I doubt we'll ever witness again.

Isner, who is currently ranked 19th in the world, was pre-seeded 23rd at Wimbledon. For Isner's 1st match, he drew the unseeded Mahut, who is currently ranked 148th in the world, and had to progress through a qualifying pre-tournament in order to be eligible to play (since he didn't qualify automatically). Mahut was seeded 27th in the qualifying rounds. He survived three qualification rounds, beating Frank Dancevic easily in the 1st round (6–3, 6–0), Alex Bogdanovic in a 2nd round marathon (3–6, 6–3, 24–22), and Stefan Koubek in the final round in five sets (6–7, 3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–4), in which he came back from a 2 sets to none deficit. Thus, Mahut had already played an unusually large amount of tennis in the week before the main tournament even began.

The Isner-Mahut match was scheduled to begin on Court 18 (a non-showcase court), on Day 2 (Tuesday) of the tournament. Three earlier matches were scheduled on Court 18 for that same day, so the Isner-Mahut match didn't begin until 6:13pm local time.

Isner converted the only break of service in the 1st set, winning 6 games to 4. Mahut bounced back, converting the only break of service in the 2nd set, winning 6 games to 3. The two held serve throughout the 3rd set, but Mahut prevailed in a tiebreaker, winning 7 games to 6 (9-7 in the tiebreaker). The 4th set lasted over an hour, with both players holding serve and forcing another tiebreaker. Isner prevailed this time, winning 7 games to 6 (7-3 in the tiebreaker). After Isner leveled the match, at 9:07pm local time, the match was suspended due to darkness. Little did everyone know what was about to happen the next day.

I was in the middle of quarterly meetings at my office last week, so I wasn't really paying attention to the early matches at Wimbledon. In fact, I didn't even know that these two were playing in the 1st round, so the coming news came as quite a shock to me.

The match resumed on Court 18 at 2:05 pm local time on Day 3 (Wednesday). I got word at lunch time (~5:30pm local time) that this match was tied at 30-30 in the 5th set! Both players just kept bombing away, racking up aces, and continuing to hold serve. Every half hour or so, I was checking the score. 39-39. 45-45. 50-50. 55-55. Finally, not long before I headed home from work, the chair umpire decided to suspend the match for a 2nd day, due to darkness, with the score tied at 59-59. Neither player could break serve!

[For those of you unfamiliar with tournament scoring rules in tennis, typically, if a set is tied at 6 games apiece, the winner of that set will be determined by a tiebreaker. The two players alternate serving every two points, and they play until someone scores 7 points. The winner must also win the tiebreaker by at least 2 points. During all rounds at Wimbledon (and a the finals of the other 3 major tournaments), a tiebreaker isn't used to determine the winner of the final set. Instead, the two players continue playing until they have achieved a two game advantage, no matter how many games it takes. ]

On Day 4 (Thursday), the match resumed at 3:43pm local time. At this point, the match had already lasted exactly 10 hours, and it was anyone's guess as to how much longer the match would continue. With renewed energy, both players continued to bomb away, serve after serve, game after game. Finally, with Mahut serving, down 30-40 and trailing 69 games to 68, Isner ripped a backhand winner past Mahut to put an end to the match. After 11 hours and 5 minutes of play spanning 3 days, Isner was finally victorious, 6–4, 3–6, 6–7, 7–6, 70–68. The match broke a number of tennis records:
  • Longest match (11 hours, 5 minutes)
  • Longest set (5th set - 8 hours, 11 minutes)
  • Most games in a set (5th set - 138)
  • Most games in a match (183)
  • Most aces in a match by one player (Isner - 113)
  • Total aces in a match (216 - Mahut's 103 aces were the 2nd highest number by a player in a match)
  • Consecutive service games held (168 - 84 for each player)
John Isner collapses after converting his final break chance in the 5th set.

I hated to see either of these players lose, especially after battling for so long. I can't even begin to imagine the mental/physical toll this match took on both Isner and Mahut. Sadly for Isner, the next day he had to play an early morning 2nd round match against unseeded Thiemo De Bakker. Isner was downed in just 1 hour and 14 minutes, losing 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. Amazingly, Isner failed to produce a single ace in the match, and he received neck and back treatment while clearly battling fatigue. In fact, Patrick McEnroe even tweeted that Isner had "no skin left on his toes."

I will be shocked if we ever see a tennis match this long ever again. Even Isner agrees, saying in a courtside interview, "Nothing like this will happen again, ever." It is likely that Wimbledon could change their 5th set tiebreaker rule next year, which would prevent another marathon match like this from taking place. In the meantime, tennis must enjoy this moment in the sun, because no one expected John Isner and Nicolas Mahut to steal a few moments of fame from the World Cup.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Facebook Hiatus

It's been quite some time, but I've decided to delve back into the blogging world, thanks in part to my hiatus from Facebook. There are a number of topics that I plan on writing about, and I think this is an excellent arena for sharing my thoughts, along with those who choose to join me.

Most of those who know me realize that I'm a huge sports enthusiast. That is one major purpose of this blog - to celebrate sports. In addition to other choice topics, we'll discuss a number of sports/sporting events from an array of different angles - cultural, political, fanaticism, etc.

Usually the summertime does not create a lot of opportunities to talk about miraculous events in sports. However, this month has been a huge exception with the World Cup, the Mahut-Isner match at Wimbledon, Tiger's continued golf struggles, another Celtics-Lakers finals rematch, a resurgent Cincinnati Reds baseball club, the penalty phase for USC athletics, and a host of other happenings. Stay tuned for my next post!