June 28, 2008

Cheap Nationals Tickets

You've been putting off going to the new Nationals Park because tickets are just so darn expensive. And the team sucks. Well, here's your chance. The Partnership for Public Service is hosting another Celebrate Public Service night at the park. The best part is that the tickets are discounted, and part of the profits benefit the non-profit organization.

The game is Saturday, July 12, against Miguel Tejada and the Houston Astros. Click here for a link to purchase tickets. Look for the Nationals' logo halfway down on the right-hand side.

You do not have to be a federal employee to enjoy the discount.

Goodell Sets Tone for 2009 CBA Negotiations

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is not afraid to take a page out of the NFLPA's playbook. He's setting the tone for the next round of collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations in public, and it seems fans are rallying to his side.

At a question and answer session at the Chautauqua Institute, Goodell referred to rookie salaries as "ridiculous". He noted that "[rookie salary] is not going to players that are performing." His comments were met with strong applause from the audience, according to ESPN.

blahhblah $30M guaranteed even before his first drive-crushing holding penalty

Goodell is taking an interesting approach to this round of CBA negotiations. He is simultaneously appealing to the fans and to the veteran players, including those who have leadership positions within the NFLPA. Veteran players reacted strongly to the deals signed by Matt Ryan and Jake Long, especially the guaranteed money given. Back in May, NFLPA President Kevin Mawae (C-Titans) said, "As a guy who has been in the league for 14 now going on 15 years and being around other veteran guys, for a young guy to get paid that kind of money and [he] never steps foot on an NFL football field, it's a little disheartening to think of". John Lynch and Jay Feely have both publicly spoken in favor of a rookie salary system.

This puts Gene Upshaw in a very difficult position. He is vehemently opposed to any changes to the rookie salary system, citing concessions already made. A contingency in his union, including many well-respected veterans, are absolutely in favor of a rookie salary cap. The owners, who believe high rookie salaries cause salary inflation in general, are absolutely in favor of a rookie salary cap. Roger Goodell, who represents the interests of the owners, is charismatic, well-liked and is absolutely in favor of a rookie salary cap. That leaves Upshaw and a fractured portion of the union on his side.

blahblahblah Goodell filled Tags' shoes and added an ass-kicking steel toe

Upshaw's position has merit. He argues that a tight rookie salary cap potentially prices veterans out of a job. This makes sense, in that a six-year veteran who must make three times what a rookie replacement must make is in trouble of losing his job. This explains, in part, why many of the veterans most in favor of a rookie cap are those least at risk of losing their jobs to a lower-round draft pick. On the other hand, the veteran minimum salary elevates after the player has already played the four "credited" seasons necessary to secure a pension. In that way, the union has done its job for players who are not talented enough to maintain their position in the league due to rookie competition.

This is but one issue on the table for the 2009 CBA negotiations, but it appears the one Goodell wants to drive the hardest. He knows that the issue fractures the NFLPA, and obviously that plays to his advantage in getting other concessions from Upshaw and the union. Just as importantly, he knows that the issue has traction with fans who wouldn't much like entry-level college grads nabbing the same salaries they make despite experience. Also, this distracts from the quite damaging images of prematurely disabled retired players. In that respect, everyone wins...except the disabled retired players.
This entire labor negotiation is going to be the major football issue of early 2009, whether you like it or not. Keep an eye here as we'll analyze the developments as they occur.

June 27, 2008

Spain vs. Germany Preview

The Euro 2008 final is a matchup worth waiting for. Spain has looked like the best team throughout the tournament, scoring frequently and dominating the pace of play. Known for short, controlling passes, Spain possessed the ball for an incredible 65% of their semifinal match with Russia. Germany has slowly played its way into form with the side which was one of the favorites at the last World Cup. Germany's front line is capable of scoring at any time and the Germans have the size to dominate set pieces.

Cesc Fabregas must replace David Villa's offensive spark.

The injury to David Villa could be a big storyline in this match. His hat trick to open the tournament set the tone for Spain, and he has been a stalwart for them so far as the leading scorer. More pressure will now fall on Fernando Torres, who has shown flashes of brilliance but also scuffled at time. Cesc Fabregas, a young extremely talented attacking midfielder, is expected to replace David Villa in the starting XI, and he has been instrumental in creating some of their scoring opportunities, especially against Russia. The real question will be the difference in the Spanish formation with only one true striker, as opposed to the pair of strikers which Aragones has used to great effect so far. With only one target forward, Fabregas' opportunities may be limited. On the other hand, the German defense has looked rather vulnerable at times, and the Spanish are well-suited to take advantage with their quickness.

Unexpectedly, Bastien Schweinsteiger is now the main guy on offense for Germany. (Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI)

For the Germans, Schweinsteiger and Podolski have looked almost unstoppable. If Miroslav Klose can come anywhere near his form of two years ago, this has to be the most formidable striking force in the tournament. However, Klose has struggled, even though he's scored twice. The German attack is best when Lahm or some of the other defenders are able to push forward and open things up, but that will be extremely dangerous with the faster Spanish lurking behind them for a counterattack. The Germans need an outstanding game from Lahm and others at both ends of the field if they hope to really test the Spanish.

The case for Spain:
The quicker, younger, faster team, the Spanish should be able to control possession and create plenty of opportunities by running or dribbling past the slower German defenders. Their speed should force the German fullbacks to stay back, limiting the German numbers forward and forcing the three offensive players to play by themselves. Spain has been the best team all tournament, and should continue that form.

The case for Germany:
The Germans have a big advantage in experience, returning most of their team from the last World Cup and playing with the confidence of a solid international record in major tournaments. Spain still has a reputation for choking on the biggest stages, and an early German lead could really test the Spaniards' nerves, since they haven't trailed at all in the elimination rounds. In addition, the Germans can counterattack quite well, and appear accustomed to having limited possession of the ball, so the Spanish possession style shouldn't bother them. Turkey appeared to control the pace of play for much of their semifinal, but Germany was patient and struck very effectively when the opportunity presented itself.

Spain, 3-1.

June 26, 2008

Amazing Ball Girl Catch (Fake, but Cool)

Pardon me if you've seen this before. The set up is a minor league game between the Tacoma Rainiers and the Fresno Grizzlies at Chukchansi Park in Fresno. The batter drives a ball down the left field line just foul. As you can see in the video, the ball girl appears to track it down and make an amazing catch.


An amazing display of what women could do in sports if given a chance? Not exactly. This was staged and filmed for use in a Gatorade commercial which never made the air. The video leaked (probably by the guy who spent weeks editing it), and became part of the e-mail circuit.

Read all about the set-up, the actors, and the reaction in this article for MinorLeagueBaseball.com.

June 25, 2008

Big Brown Trainer Dutrow Turns Over New Leaf, Finds More Drugs

I am starting to think the thoroughbred racing industry is breathing one big retrospective sigh of relief that Big Brown failed to capture the Triple Crown this spring. Rick Dutrow has now been hit with a 15-day suspension in Kentucky for providing one of his horses, Salute the Count (not a euphemism for masturbation, unfortunately), with a dose of Clenbuterol too close to race day. The horse raced in the Aegon Turf Sprint on May 2 at Churchill Downs (the day before the Derby) and tested positive for twice the allowable level.

blahbbblblahahlahlahblahblah This is not a mug shot.

Clenbuterol is closely related to Albuterol, a standard and legal drug given to horses as a bronchodilator, to increase lung capacity and function. Clenbuterol, unlike Albuterol, has steroid properties as well. It is permitted, but a dose may not be administered within a certain window before the horse races.

Dutrow, of course, is claiming distraction.

Allegations of cheating have followed Dutrow more than any other "elite" horseman. The ESPN article linked above lists numerous supported allegations of cheating, all involving horse drugging. It would be easy to believe that he failed to closely monitor his horse-drugging regiment with Big Brown running the next day, but not given Dutrow's history.

His personal history is checkered as well, with this article from the New York Daily News revealing his sordid drug and gambling past. While he seems to have beaten his addictions, one wonders what tricks he learned during his more desperate gambling runs.

Djokovic is the Vulnerable One

Just a couple days after calling the mighty Federer vulnerable, Novak Djokovic was upset in the second round at Wimbledon, falling in straight sets. His opponent, Marat Safin, might be one of the toughest second-round opponents Djokovic could have drawn, but the manner of his exit was quite embarrassing. Novak double-faulted on consecutive points to end the match. Maybe Novak spent too much time practicing his imitations of other players, and too little on his serve.

Safin, the Australian Open champ in 2005, is quite the solid player, though he hasn't really been at peak form lately. Maybe his sister's run to the finals as a 13 seed at the French Open inspired him. Safin certainly has the talent to make a run at the semifinal berth that many had already penciled Djokovic into, but a victory over Federer would be a real stunner.

If nothing else, Djokovic's loss makes the gap between the top 2 players and everyone else that much clearer. Expect a Federer vs. Nadal final.

How to Get Tossed by an Ump

Jerry Manuel must have used a certain word that's a no-no with umpires. Here's one of my favorite movie scenes, to expound on that point.

June 24, 2008

Who Needs Tiger?

Certainly not The Golf Channel. They're running ads for this week's Buick Open by using the most recognizable name and face in the sport today: Rocco Mediate.

blblahblahahblahblah Seriously, this guy is all they have.

Sure, they're showing clips of Tiger beating Rocco, but he's the focus of the promo. "Can Rocco keep it up?" Of course, the answer is almost certainly no. Who else are they supposed to push?

Germany vs. Turkey Preview

In the first semifinal of Euro 2008, Turkey provides the classic story of a gritty underdog. Turkey is ranked 20th in the world, and was almost an afterthought entering the tournament. After an incredible three consecutive comeback wins, Turkey faces one of their toughest opponents yet, a solid, experienced German side (5th in the world). Unfortunately, Turkey will probably be without some of their best players, their captain and others with injuries and still others due to yellow card accumulation. The captain, Nihat Kahveci, had been one of their stalwarts, and scored two dramatic goals in the last 5 minutes to beat the Czech Republic. Reuters is reporting that Turkey may only have 13 healthy, eligible outfield players for the semifinal, and a backup goalie might play away from the goal. Of course, Turkey is not as deep as the Germans or other top sides, so the need to play backups is more of a problem.

For pics of the girls body-paint match (NSFW), click here.

The case for Germany:
The more experienced, talented, and healthy side in this match, the Germans have one of the best offensive squads in the tournament. The combination of Schweinsteiger, Ballack, Podolski, and Klose looked almost unstoppable against Portugal, and an early lead by the Germans might be insurmountable. All of that would be true even if Turkey had their first string on the pitch, but with so many injuries and disqualifications, this could get ugly. The Germans are heavy favorites, and rightfully so. There's just no tangible reason to expect a victory by the Turks.

The case for Turkey:
Adversity is nothing new for these players. Of the 5 comeback victories in Euro 2008, the Turks have produced 3 of them, and consecutively at that. In every one of them, the Turks have scored in stoppage time (or really close to it) to either tie the game or win it. The Turks will have absolutely no pressure on them, with everyone expecting an undermanned, overwhelmed team to get blown out by the superior Germans. If the Germans overlook them or decide things are wrapped up once they have a lead, Turkey could make them pay, just like Croatia. A one-goal lead late in the game might be the worst scenario for Germany.

Germany, 3-1. But I will be rooting for the underdogs.

June 23, 2008

NBA Draft: 2nd Overall Pick Rarely a Star

The Chicago Bulls obviously got lucky claiming the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, but one would have to think the Heat will get a pretty good player at #2 as well. Right? Recent history says otherwise.

Terp Steve Francis is the most recent #2 pick to make an All-Star Game.

In the drafts after 1995, only one 2nd overall pick in the NBA Draft has made it to an All-Star game (Steve Francis). In that time, 7 #1 picks have made the All-Star game, as have 5 #3's, 4 #4's, and 3 #5's. One would expect the #1's to be the best and in general they have been, including Dwight Howard, Lebron, Yao, AI, and Tim Duncan. But by draft order, the 2nd picks should be better than the 3rd or 4th. Consider these All-Stars drafted at either 3rd or 4th from 1996-2005: Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Chauncey Billups, Antawn Jamison, Baron Davis and Stephon Marbury. This is not to say that all the 2nd picks have been complete busts, but the star power has not been there. Will anyone ever be able to explain the choice of Darko Milicic at #2 when Carmelo, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade were still on the board??

Thanks, ESPN, but I don't think we needed to know Darko.

The NFL has actually exhibited a very similar trend. Of the draft classes from 1996-2005, the only 2nd picks that became one of the best at their position are Donovan McNabb and Julius Peppers. A few others had decent careers like Kevin Hardy and Lavar Arrington, and others may yet, like Ronnie Brown. However, look at the success of the #1 picks: Keyshawn, Orlando Pace, Peyton, Mike Vick, Carson Palmer, and Eli Manning. What's worse is considering the players who were ranked highly but passed on at #2: Jonathan Ogden (4th, 1996), Shawn Springs (3rd, 1997), Charles Woodson (4th, 1998), and LaDainan Tomlinson (5th, 2001), to name a few. The 3rd picks from the last three drafts have all made the Pro Bowl already, while not a single 2nd pick has (including Reggie Bush). The 2004 class is a perfect example, where Robert Gallery was taken 2nd, between Eli, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, and Sean Taylor. Maybe we should name the 2nd pick The Ryan Leaf Selection, because that's how it always seems to turn out.

So is there any explanation for this insanity? The #2 pick seems to be littered with college stars whose game didn't work out as well at the pro level. Examples include Keith van Horn, Marcus Camby, Jay Williams, Emeka Okafor, and Marvin Williams. The teams wanted a safer pick where the player had already demonstrated a lot of talent. Other failed picks were young guys that didn't develop to their full potential, like Stromile Swift and Tyson Chandler. Maybe the media hype built some of these guys up too much. It's hard to blame the team strategies because over such a long period, many different strategies should have been tried, along with a variety of team needs and draft availability.

#2, OJ? Are you sure that's when you want to be picked?

So the Heat will have their choice of (most likely) two of Beasley, Rose, and Mayo. Will they manage to find a bust in that group? Will they take a shot on this year's Darko? Or maybe they'll buck the trend and find the next MJ. Time will tell, but history's not on their side.

June 22, 2008

NL West: Best to Worst

Last season, the NL West was the best and most exciting division in baseball. The Diamondbacks had the best record in the NL, and the Padres and Rockies were only 1 game out. Two NL West teams had a one-game playoff to get the wild card, and the Rockies were the hottest team in baseball, on an incredible streak to end the year. The Rockies represented the NL West in the World Series after an all-NL West Championship series. No other division had four teams over .500, nor 3 teams at .549 or better. What a difference a year makes...

This season, the NL West is unquestionably the worst division in MLB. The D'Backs have the worst record of any division leader at 39-37, and no other division has 4 teams under .500. The division has 4 teams in the bottom 8 of MLB in runs scored, making their losses boring as well. The Dodgers (2nd place) are already 8 games out of the NL Wild Card race, while 5 NL teams have a better record than the D'Backs. What happened?

Lincecum is awesome, too bad the Giants suck. Upper Deck should have gotten a different angle for this picture...

SF Giants
(32-44) - The least surprising of the group, the Giants are in a long-term rebuilding phase. The young starting pitching shows signs of brilliance, but the offense lacks slugging. Rowand, Winn, and a Molina can't carry your lineup. The team's batting average is surprisingly respectable, but the lack of slugging results in a lot of singles and not enough runs. Tim Lincecum has been outstanding, and Cain and Sanchez have held their own. But Zito and the other starters have a combined record of 5-20, with ERA's over 5.00. The disappointing aspect of the Giants is that the young pitching should be complemented by young hitters, so that the team will mature together and be good in a couple years. Instead, the team will have to get rid of Rich Aurilia, Omar Vizquel, Bengie Molina, Randy Winn, and Ray Durham, all of whom are 33 or older.

Colorado Rockies (32-44) - When you play at Coors Field and rank in the bottom 10 of MLB in runs, you know you have problems. Tulowitzski has only played 28 games due to injury, and hit .159 during that time. The injury bug has also gotten Holliday and Hawpe already. The worst part though is the pitching. Jeff Francis was their ace last year, but has a 5.22 ERA this year. Jimenez and Francis have a combined 5-13 record. Corpas and Fuentes, who were almost unhittable late last year out of the pen, have already blown 8 saves, and Corpas has an ERA of 6.19. The Rockies were optimistic that last year's success wasn't a fluke, especially with so many good young players. Looks like it was a fluke.

Adrian Gonzalez is the only decent hitter for the Padres.

San Diego Padres (32-45) - The Padres never expected to score a ton of runs this year, and the plan was to pitch their way to victory. Unfortunately, Peavy and Young have both spent time on the DL this year, missing 5+ starts each. Maddux and Wolf have been solid, but the Padres have needed too many starts from other people. In addition, the hitting has been even worse than expected. Only two regular position players are hitting over .265, and only Adrian Gonzalez has over 35 RBI's. If the pitching gets healthy, things might improve, but the Padres really need some bats in the worst way.

The best leadoff man in the game this year, the Dodgers need Furcal healthy, and soon.

LA Dodgers (35-40) - Everybody had high hopes when Joe Torre rolled into town and took over a team with a talented pitching staff and a high payroll. Unfortunately, none of the top 4 starters has a winning record, and Brad Penny has an ERA of 5.88. The staff ERA is good (under 4.00), but the hitting has not helped the pitchers at all. Furcal was having a great year as the leadoff man, but has already missed 40 games to injury. Andruw Jones has continued the decline he started in Atlanta, hitting a meager .165 this year and now on the DL as well. No Dodger has more than 8 HR, and without Furcal, manufacturing runs has been hard. This one stat tells it all: Furcal scored 34 runs in 32 games. The team leader is now Russell Martin, with 38 runs in 73 games. This team has the talent to compete, but just needs to get healthy. They have done a good job of staying close enough for now.

Byrnes looks pretty, but hasn't helped his team much this year.

Arizona D'Backs
(39-37) - Arizona got off to a good start, but have faded back to the pack in a hurry once they started playing teams from other divisions. The young hitters are entering their sophomore slumps, with Drew (.268), Reynolds(.252), Upton(.241), and Young(.233) all struggling. Eric Byrnes was a spark for them last year, but only hit .219 before getting hurt. Webb and Haren are the dominant top two as expected, but the Big Unit and Owings have struggled, with ERA's over 5. The return of Doug Davis has helped, but the drop in run support has cost them lately. The D'Backs have not scored over 4 runs in a loss since April (29 losses), also managing 8 wins since April with 4 runs or less. The D'Backs were 20-8 at the end of April. Since then, they're 19-29, and 8-29 when scoring 4 or fewer. If they can sneak into the playoffs, they will be a formidable matchup because of the strength of their starting pitching. They could never have hoped to be in 1st after such a bad stretch, and will only expect to improve and run away with this terrible division.

Most of the talent which created last year's success is still in the NL West. However, injuries and struggles by younger players have really crippled the teams' chances at success through the first half of the season.