September 25, 2006

My new favorite sports program: The EPL Review Show

For those of you wondering what that is, it’s the English soccer equivalent of NFL Primetime, but 973 times better than any sports highlight show in America (at least in my opinion that is).

For an hour, with few commercial breaks, the show runs through all 10 weekend Premiership games in a style that I hope more American highlight shows begin to emulate at some point soon. The host of the show is never seen, and unlike every show on ESPN, FOX, etc, you’re not forced to spend the whole time listening to some host who makes his/her shtick seem more important than the game itself.

Each game is condensed into about 3-5 minutes of action, which makes every soccer game feel like it was the most intense thing ever (even if nothing happened). The show does a perfect job of capturing all the drama of each game, while cutting out the boring stuff in between. The transitions between the action are smooth and seamless, and you only hear the actual game announcers calling the action (no catch phrases, egos or music get in the way of the drama).

I’ve never seen a highlight show before where I feel like I actually watched every game that day/week. It would be great if someone could come up with the equivalent for baseball, football, basketball of hockey. Baseball Tonight is probably the best sports highlight show out there, but there is still too much analysis and talking, and not enough of the games themselves. Rarely do you feel the excitement when watching highlights if a studio host is doing the highlights. It’s always much better when they play the local radio or TV guys instead. I want to feel the crowd and the energy, not listen to cheesy background music and some host making wisecracks every 10 seconds.

And the beauty of it all is that since few people in the US care about European soccer, I can watch this show every Sunday night without knowing what happened. For American sports this would be impossible, since there are score tickers on 17 channels, I’m on the web constantly, people talk about sports everywhere (especially in NY) and taxi cabs in the city now have scoreboards on top of them.

If you get FOX Soccer Channel, give it a try. You may actually enjoy watching soccer for once.

September 13, 2006

My favorite thing to complain about the past month

Not that this is a new revelation or anything, but isn?t it ridiculous that a pitcher who blows a five-run ninth-inning lead doesn?t get a blown save, while a guy who comes in with the bases loaded, no outs and a 7-6 lead, and gives up only a sac fly, gets a blown save?

While I understand why pitchers can?t create their own save situations, shouldn?t they be able to create their own blown save situations? Failing to hold onto a five-run lead is a lot worse than allowing a game-tying sac fly with the bases loaded. Why should the pitcher who pitches well suffer, while the other guy avoids the blemish on his record (although his ERA suffers tremendously)?

Just another instance of how dumb stats like saves and holds can be.

Worst fantasy move of the month

Leaving Hideki Matsui on my bench last night for his return, then watching him go 4-for-4. I read in the paper yesterday morning that he would be back, yet forgot to pull Pat Burrell and his .050 average (the past 10 days) out of my lineup. Normally, moves like this don?t matter in September since I am 47 points out of first, but this year I actually have a chance to win my first legitimate league in nine seasons.

Most annoying part of the opening weekend of football

I?m in Dallas for the weekend and watching the Chiefs-Bengals game at my relatives? house. Since they don?t have the NFL package, I have no way of switching to close games such as the Pats-Bills, Saints-Browns, Seahawks-Lions or Jets-Titans. When the KC-CIN game finally decides to end, CBS switches to the end of the Jets-Titans game, where a rejuvenated Kerry Collins (well sort of) is driving Tennessee down the field with a minute to go, trailing 23-16. But then, only a few minutes after the game comes on, James Brown appears to tell us that due to contractual obligations, CBS can no longer show the game.

This I understand. Since the Dallas game had started on FOX, another game can?t be shown opposite it on another channel it the local market. I don?t love this rule, but it?s been around longer than I have, so I?m used to it.

What makes the whole thing ridiculous is that CBS shows Brown for the next three minutes watching the game on a monitor to his right, and calling the plays for us. About five seconds after each play, CBS shows us a replay of the play Brown just called.

If networks are allowed to do this, why not just show us the end of the game? Most people are still not going to change the channel when it is 3rd and 6 from the eight yard line with 43 seconds to play, if someone is telling them what is going on in the game and they can see the replay a few seconds later.

Seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to abide by an old rule that should probably be altered anyway, since many people have DirecTV nowadays (outside of NYC that is) or are watching in sports bars, where they can see every game out of their local market.

Final thought

Had my 32nd birthday last week, not something to get very excited about.

When you turn anywhere from ages 1-12, every birthday is enjoyable. You get tons of great presents, have a party where everyone has to cater to you the entire time, and usually you can get away with doing just about anything — without getting punished or yelled at.

As you get older, the presents begin to disappear, but at least you earn the ability to do some important things – work legally, drive, vote, drink, etc.

But once you pass 21, the excitement pretty much stops. Sure you can begin to rent cars without paying ridiculous fees at age 25, but for the most part the whole birthday thing begins to lose its luster.

Despite all of our great technology, most people will forget your birthday unless you remind them that it’s coming. You usually wind up organizing your own party, dinner, drinks or whatever you decide to have. You don?t want people to buy you anything because most of the time you know that you?ll have to fake like you are excited when the present is usually just OK at best.

As I look at it, there’s not much left to look forward to on your actual birthday once you pass 25:

35 years old: You can run for president
40 years old: Someone will attempt to throw you a surprise party, which you’ll enjoy, but you?ll also know the entire time that your midlife crisis will begin the following morning
50 years old: Another potential surprise party, but you’re so miserable that you’re actually 50, you have trouble enjoying it.
55 years old: You start qualifying for senior discounts
57 years old: Even though you can barely throw a ball more than 24 miles per hour, you keep telling yourself that Satchel Paige pitched when he was your age, so you can?t be that old yet.
65 years old: You can retire and do nothing the rest of your life (assuming you planned right), although if Medicare and Social Security disappear by 2039, this may not be that easy.
100 years old: Willard Scott says your name during the Today Show, although you can’t hear it or see it, so it doesn?t matter much anyway.

August 17, 2006

A few gripes for the week (or the month since I have beenawful this year updating my blog. I was much better when this blog was actually
a weekly column and I was forced to write once a week. Also, is there a rule to
how many words can go between parenthesis? This sentence is 90 percent in
parenthesis at this point. Maybe the first six words should actually be in the
parenthesis and the rest should be outside.)

1) The YES Network lists a player’s linescore at the bottom of the screen
during most at-bats (when they don’t forget to put it up on the screen that
is). When they list it, it’s in the following order: AB-H-R-RBI. Any normal
baseball fan who has ever looked at a boxscore knows that the correct order of
a batter?s stats is AB-R-H-RBI, something that has been in place for more than a
century. Yet, YES decided last year that they would try to be different and
confuse every baseball fan out there every time a batter comes to the plate.

After watching 250 or so games the past season and a half, I
still read each player?s linescore incorrectly every single time. Derek Jeter
comes up and I think he is somehow 0-for-3 with three runs scored, instead of
3-for-3 with no runs. Even if this continues for 50 more years, it?s never
going to look right unless every newspaper, website and TV station in the
country decides to follow the YES Network?s example.

I?m sure it?s not an oversight on their part, but just
another case of people changing stuff for the sake of changing stuff, so they
can think they are being useful or creative in their jobs.

2) Yesterday?s groundbreaking at Yankee Stadium was truly
upsetting. I never really believed that the Yankees would go through with this
whole thing until seeing it on TV Wednesday. Like many Yankee fans, I don?t see
the point of this. The most historic stadium in the world is being knocked down
so that a new fan-friendly stadium can be built.

This means is that in three years, the new stadium will be
full of more phony fans who care nothing about the game, tradition and history,
and instead are there just to be there, so they can feel cool or eat from one
of the trendy food stands that I?m sure will show up all over the place. It
means more pompous guys in luxury boxes, getting to the game late, getting
plastered and schmoozing the whole time with clients that they are trying to
impress. I could write a 487-page book on this, but frankly it?s too upsetting
(plus I?m not really up for writing any book that is more than four pages.)

3) With the NFL regular season kicking off in three weeks, I?m
still going to have to spend 11-12 Sundays stuck in a sports bar because few
apartment buildings in New York City can get DIRECTV. I understand why DIRECTV
does not allow cable companies to carry the NFL Sunday Ticket Package, but this
should not be the case in NYC, where people cannot physically get DIRECTV (by
the way, I hate having to type DIRECTV in caps every time. Hitting the caps
lock button multiple times in one paragraph can be very tiring as you all know).

Shouldn?t DIRECTV and Time Warner strike a deal where
customers who live in non-DIRECTV buildings can get Sunday Ticket through their
cable box? I can get NBA League Pass(not that I want it) or MLB Extra Innings this way, why not the NFL?

DIRECTV would probably sell hundreds of thousands of extra
Sunday Ticket subscriptions by doing this. All that they are doing now is
leaving money on the table and forcing people like me to spend $50 at a sports
bar, where I usually can?t even listen to the game b/c the audio for the Giants
or Jets is on instead.

What?s the harm? They won?t lose one DIRECTV subscription
this way, and instead could make and extra $50-100 million. I just don’t get it, and would love an explanation, if anyone actually has a logical one.

June 26, 2006

After watching the World Cup for the past few weeks, I thinkI have a better understanding for why most Americans don’t care at all about
soccer. Forget the reasons we hear time and time again — no scoring, slow
paced, no breaks to get beer or go to the bathroom. The officiating is ruining
this World Cup and has been so atrocious that one has to wonder if Vince
McMahon is behind this whole thing.

I just watched the final 10 minutes of the Italy-Australia match, which up
until the final seconds was completely captivating. The underdog Aussies kept
pressuring the Italian goal and looked as if they would score the go-ahead goal
to pull off a mammoth upset. But then the officials stepped in, as they have in
too many games thus far. An Italian player trips over an Australian player (who
is pretty much just lying on the ground) and a penalty shot is called,
basically the equivalent of the referee just stopping the game and
declaring Italy
the winner.

The US got eliminated last week on a similar call (although it wasn’t with 10 seconds
left in the game), where a defender did nothing wrong, yet was called for a
foul in the box, leading to a penalty kick. Can’t the folks at FIFA adopt the
same unwritten laws that exist in other sports, such as not calling iffy
penalties in overtime of Stanley Cup playoff games? Don?t they know that calls
like this ruin the game for everyone outside of the country that benefits from
the call?

There have been so many yellow and red cards issued this tournament, that one
would think players are literally punching one another on the field. Most of
these calls are drawn through acting. Almost every time a player slides into
another, the guy with the ball winds up crying on the ground, holding his leg.
Then miraculously, the guy almost always is fine within a minute. The only
thing in American sports that rivals this are wide receivers motioning for a
flag on every incomplete pass. Luckily, most NFL officials aren’t duped by this
the way that FIFA refs are.

Baseball fans like to get angry at guys like Don Denkinger
and Doug Eddings (the A.J. Pierzynski non-strike out call last year) for making
the wrong calls in huge games. Yet, their calls were split-second judgment
calls under enormous pressure. Soccer refs are able to think for a few seconds
before pulling out a yellow or red card and basically ruining a country?s hopes
for the next four years.

May 19, 2006

Every year there is one pitcher who manages to destroy myfantasy chances on his own.

In 2001, Shawn Chacon was the perpetrator, putting together back-to-back atrocious
starts at midseason (including one game where he allowed 11 earned runs) to
permanently drop me out of first.

Brandon Duckworth (when was the last time you thought of his name) ruined 2002
by winning only eight games and posting a 5.41 ERA a year after a 3.52 ERA. The
next year, Jeff Weaver?s 5.99 ERA and 1.62 WHIP throttled any chances I had of
winning a crown.

And topping all of this off was Oliver Perez, who destroyed
four of my teams last year by going from a 2.98 ERA/239 K pitcher in 2004 to
one with a 5.85 ERA and only 97 K?s in ?05.

Well this year had been different up until Juan Cruz decided
to join this lowly group this past week.

Cruz had started two games prior to May 12 and had allowed only
one earned run and six hits in 10 innings of work, to go along with 10 K?s. So
despite the fact he would be facing the tough Cardinals lineup last Friday, I
slotted him in for the start. Five earned runs and 10 baserunners later (in
only five innings), Cruz picked up his first loss of the year, while only
slightly damaging my ERA and WHIP.

Might have been the worst call so far of the year. The
skinny righty got pummeled, allowing nine earned runs in two thirds of an
inning, something that it almost impossible to accomplish in a single outing.

His last start alone caused by ERA to go up .23 points.  Recovering from this both statistically and
mentally will be tough. 

May 10, 2006

After failing to make any major blunders the first month ofthe season, my usual bad luck is creeping back in.

Last Wednesday, I picked up Tony Armas for a spot start. The oft-injured hurler
had been pitching exceptionally well, compiling a 2.76 ERA in April to go along
with 20 K’s in 29 IP and two wins. He was set to face the feeble Marlins
offense, and would be pitching at home, so picking him up for the start seemed
to make perfect sense.

My pitching strategy had been working brilliantly prior to this move. I waited
until the seventh round to take any pitchers this year, and still wound up with
John Lackey, Chris Capuano and Scott Kazmir, all of whom have pitched well. On
top of those three, I kept picking up guys like Nate Robertson for a start or two,
and despite not having an ace, I was leading
my 15-team league in ERA and WHIP after a month.

But then came Armas? start, which yielded five earned runs
in just 2.1 IP. So as punishment, I sent him back to the waiver wires,
especially with his next start coming against the first-place Reds in Cincinnati (a great hitter?s park). Armas retaliated by pitching superbly (Win, 6 IP, 2 H,
1 ER, 4 K) against the red-hot Reds.

Quick comment on the whole Delmon Young incident?

My question with this whole thing is ? why was a camera from
1986 being used to tape this game?
Take a look at the clip. The video looks like lost footage from the filming of Bull Durham, or the grainy footage you would expect to see on an ESPN profile about some high school pitcher from the 1980s who threw 97 mph, but hurt his arm and never made it to the Majors.
The quality is worse than the betamax tape of my sixth grade graduation from 20 years ago. Plus the clip is crooked and looks like someone was balancing the camera on a stack of programs.

Were they intentionally going for a retro feel? If so, the cameraman did a superb job.

May 5, 2006

A bunch of people have e-mailed me wanting to know why I haven’t written much about my fantasy woes, like I have the past five seasons. The truth is, I was cleaning up in fantasy the first few weeks. But as fate would have it, I finally have something to complain about.

Two weeks back I decided to drop Aaron Harang in one of my leagues. He had a 6.35 ERA and had been hit pretty hard in three of his four outings. Plus, the league I’m in only requires seven pitchers, and since their are only 10 teams (70 pitchers), mid-range guys like Harang do not have as much value as they would in a standard 12-team, 9-pitcher league (108 total pitchers)

Despite the fact that Harang was one of 2005’s biggest surprises, I decided there were much better options than a non-superstar who pitches in Cincinnati.

So how does Harang repay me for cutting him loose? Three starts, 3-0, 25 IP, 14 H, 4 ER and 23 K’s. Pretty much what I expected after releasing him,

And to top it off, I cost myself three home runs by benching Josh Barfield in favor of Chase Utley on Wednesday, and then sending Grady Sizemore and Hideki Matsui to the bench on Thursday, after they had been in my lineup the entire season.

My team, which had been in first since Day One, fell to fourth, and based on my track record, will never find its way back to the top.

My Kentucky Derby picks for Saturday: A.P. Warrior-Jazil-Steppenwolfer

Baseball Card Awards of the Week:
1979 Topps

Least-effective, but best-looking glasses:
Mark Lee (he walked 69 and struck out only 63 in his brief career)


Worst photo of the entire set: Rob Picciolo

StoneBest non-use of an undershirt for a guy who is going to win the Cy Young Award within a year: Steve Stone

GrubbBest cool-guy pose while wearing an airbrushed hat: Johnny Grubb

Oldest looking guy in the set:
Phil Niekro (he wins every year from 1975-1988). It’s scary to think that he was still in his 30s when this photo was taken. I can’t believe I could look like this in eight years. Kind of freaky.

April 19, 2006

Had a debate the other day with a friend about who would yourather be right now, Dan Johnson or Rondell

After a solid rookie season, Johnson has been the worst hitter in the Majors
thus far, batting .031 (1-for-32) with no extra base hits and one RBI.

White, a 14-year-veteran outfielder has appeared equally lost at the plate,
going five for his first 51 this year (.098).  He’s looked awkward
batting, and most of his swings have been desperate attempts just to make
contact. In fact, he hasn’t walked once, while striking out 17 times.

I argued that I would rather be Johnson, since he is still only 26 and will
more than likely work things out, while White is 34 and on the downward slope
of his career. For all we know, this could be the start of the end of his
career. Plus White gets injured so often, that even if he bounces back, he’s
bound to wind up on the DL at some point (only played in 140 or more games once
in his first 13 seasons).

My friend Dan fired back at me saying Johnson
could become permanently scarred, and never recover (think Rick Ankiel),
whereas at least White has had a nice career that he can look back on and
hopefully enjoy. White has had enough success to bounce back, whereas Johnson
could get mental and wind up back in the Minors.

It’s an interesting debate, and I’m not sure what the purpose of me sharing it
here is, other that it’s been on my mind the past few days.

On to a semi-more-interesting subject?

Two weeks ago I looked back at some of the ugliest cards
from the 1981 Topps set. This week, in honor of the 29th anniversary
of the 1977 Topps set, it?s time to examine the best cards from that year.
There were several prevailing themes from the ?77 set:

No. 1: Airbrush Mania


No. 2: The Ogilvie look-a-like contestOglivie

The top four finishers were:

HoodDon Hood: His photo was taken seconds after coming out of
the dugout, with absolutely no forewarning. Hood wasn?t even given a chance to
look up in his photo.

April 13, 2006

Happy to say there is little to complain about so far this season, something that will surely change in the next few weeks given my putrid track record the past nine years.

Our office league, which includes 15 teams, has gone so well that I’m sitting in first place as of this morning. Normally I never brag in this space, but I’m taking the chance the one time I can.

In my family league, two players have killed me so far — Chase Utley and good ‘ol Oliver Perez. Utley’s hitting .200 with no power or speed, and has been as valuable as Royce Clayton. Perez, who I wasted four columns last year complaining about, had a great first start, forcing me to pick him up before his last outing. He then proceeded to get waxed by Cincinnati, allowing 10 baserunners and eight runs (five earned) in just 3.1 IP. I have since dropped him and vowed never to pick him up again, even of he wins 20 straight and is still sitting on the waiver wire.

Many of you have probably come across the RBI Baseball/1986 Game 6 clip that has been circulating around the web this week. If you haven’t, and you loved playing Nintendo in the 1980s, you need to check this out right now. Simply incredible. I’ve watched this seven times now and still want to know how long it took to actually put together.


Just the talk about Nintendo’s RBI Baseball has turned so many of my co-workers into 13 year olds again. Baseball video games have never been great since the days of RBI, Bases Loaded and Baseball Stars. Sure video game manufacturers have created some amazing visual effects, but the simplicity of game play was abandoned 15 years ago, and has never been equaled again.

Maybe someday, someone will realize that simplicity isn’t a bad thing. In a time where people have no patience for anything, trying to learn to play a complex baseball video game with 74 different button options is not a good thing. Bring back the "A" and "B" buttons!

Speaking of retro sports games, 97 percent of guys who went to college in 1993-94 played EA Sports NHL 94 – perhaps the best sports video game of all time. A few months back, I saw that NHL 2006 on Playstation 2, contained NHL 94 on it as well. Even though I still have an old Sega Genesis at home, I figured it would be nice to have a version of the game that wasn’t going to break in the next few years.

So I bought NHL 2006, went home, popped it in, found the NHL 94 mode and started playing right away. Within a few seconds it was apparent that someone had made a major mistake. The players on all 24 teams were generic guys, with fake numbers and no names. Went I went to send out the Pavel Bure, Cliff Ronning, Geoff Courtnall line, instead I got numbers 43, 98 and 61.

Obviously EA Sports doesn’t have the rights anymore for all the players that are now retired, but the least they could have done was take the current teams and players, and put them all in NHL 94 mode. Anyone would rather play with real guys, that with generic computer skaters. Very disappointing, and needless to say, NHL 2006 has not been touched since. Is it that hard to get these things right?

Glad to see Bucky get booted off American Idol last night. While I liked him, he wasn’t going to win, and it was time for him to go (just as it is for Ace). It got me thinking about how much Idol is like the NBA Playoffs:

— Too many contestants with no chance of winning from the beginning.

— Viewers are forced to watch for months before it gets down to the final four, which most people could have predicted two months earlier.

— 270 gazillion people watch each week.

OK, the last point only applies to Idol, but it did with the NBA 20 years ago, when the sport was in it’s prime and actually fun to watch.

My final complaint of the day involves the post right below this one. For some reason Steve Trout refuses to cooperate. No matter how many times I ask him to right justify, he keeps floating left. Maybe he’s getting even with me for my Nick Nolte comparison, or he’s still bitter over the time I booed him at Yankee Stadium when I was 13 years old, during his 0-4, 6.60 ERA, 1.90 WHIP tenure in the Bronx. Whatever the reason, blame Trout for the sloppy looking post down below.

April 7, 2006

It’s been 25 years since one of the greatest baseball card sets ever was out on the market. The 1981 Topps set was full of cards that contained some of the worst photos ever taken. Whether the cameraman got way too close to his/her subject, forgot to focus in, or just took one pointless, non-action shot after another, many of the 700-plus cards look like Topps hired a fourth grade class to take the photos for the ’81 set.

And that’s the beauty of it. Once Topps and other companies started getting it "right" in the 1990s, the pictures actually became boring and repetitive. There was no longer the fun of laughing at a guy’s photo or wondering what the photographer was possibly thinking. The innocence of the whole thing was perfect. No one will ever get nostaligic over a glossy, perfectly photographed, limited edition card from the 21st century, but I guarantee many folks will yearn for their childhood when  picking up one of these classic ’81 Topps cards:


Joe Pettini:

I’m still convinced that the photographer asked Pettini to put on one of those Groucho Marx glasses/nose/mustache things before taking this photo.

Pettini now actually coaches with the St. Louis Cardinals, but has not donned his Marx disguise in recent years.



Steve Trout:

Gotta wonder how Topps chose this photo to make it on Trout’s  ’81 card. Was there no action shot available?  Did Trout just wake up and the photographer snapped a shot before he could even put his hat on his head?

The photo also has an eery similarity to the Nick Nolte DUI photo from a few years back. Unfortunately for Trout, the sunglasses weren’t enough to disguise his true identity.



Gene Richards:

Amazing that Richards didn’t sue Topps after his card was released in early 1981. It’s as if the cameraman was hiding on the ground and then just jumped up right in Richards’ face and snapped a quick shot.

Some people credit this photo with damaging Richard’s ego, which subsequently led to his demine (61 steals in 1980, only 21 in 1981) and found him out of baseball by the end of 1984.

Ross Grimsley:


Just a classic photo that says it all about the 1981 set.  This kind of hair, along with the mustache, will never be duplicated again. I just wish I appreciated these things more back in the early ’80s.

Makes you wonder if we’ll be laughing at Manny Ramirez’s hair 25 years from now, or even possibly 25 days from now.

And finally, three guest celebrities also appeared in the 1981 set.