July 12, 2008

A whole new way to watch sports...

So I've always considered myself a truly patriotic guy. Not the kind of guy to ride in the back of an antique convertible with the American Legion guys throwing candy out to little kids at Fourth of July parades. But patriotic enough to root like hell for the Americans at the Olympics and get some dust in my eye everytime I see that flag raised high and our anthem played at a medal ceremony.

That said, when my IRS "Stimulus Check" arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, there was some discussion as to how to spend it. Somehow my wife and I had stumbled into that class of people that got a $1,200 rebate check. I think the IRS maybe just threw darts at the wall. I'll leave it to our resident tax law expert, J-Red to explain.

Many of you know we just moved into a new townhouse and there is a lot we could do with that $1,200. Namely, place it in our savings account to rebuild the account from our down payment. But my wife and I, both of us being patriotic, decided that this just wouldn't do. No. We had to spend our money frivolously, on consumer goods, to bolster the economy. So, in the most ardent show of patriotism since John McCain survived years in the Hanoi Hilton without giving up information on his colleagues, we went to our local Best Buy, and bolstered the Gaithersburg, Maryland economy by purchasing this:
That's right. A Samsung 46" 1080p LCD flatscreen HD-TV. Hell, we were so patriotic, we even took advantage of a July 4th sale. We were even more patriotic by helping to support the Japanese economy by purchasing a Samsung product, because we want to support our continued rebuilding efforts of the post-World War II Japanese economy. Can't let them fall prey to North Korea.
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So, gang, last night I took in part of my first major league baseball game in full and beautiful HD. I also took part in my first ever Baseball Tonight viewing. Two words... HOLY. CRAP. I mean, watching the O's-Red Sox game (the Nats weren't on HD... maybe this has something to do with that pathetic 9,000 figure), I could see the beer belly and pasty skin of every Masshole crammed into the seats in Fenway. From the behind the pitcher's mound angle, you can spot which player's jersey the fan is sporting, and practically what brand of beer they are drinking. More importantly, you can see the move on the pitch, the velocity on the pitch, and the mechanics of the swing. On wide-angle shots of the ballpark, you literally feel like you're there. All I can say is I cannot wait to watch this TV during football season.
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Baseball Tonight was even more amazing, as I read somewhere that ESPN somehow has higher HD-quality broadcasts than standard network HD broadcasts. I'm not a technocrat enough to understand what I'm reading when I read that, but I can tell you that once you go HD, it's really, really difficult to go back.
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Now, I really can't wait for the Olympics next month, set to be broadcast all in HD. Now I'll be able to see, among other things, the testicles that have developed on all the Romanian female weightlifters. I would cite to outdoor events, but I don't think my HD broadcast will be able to overcome the choking smog to actually see the events.
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So a public patriotic service announcement from ECB - use your stimulus check to buy an HD TV. You'll never watch sports the same way again. And don't buy American.

July 11, 2008

NFL Roundup - Favre Coming Back, Matt Jones' Nose Candy, and Redskins Slurs

It has been a big day for NFL news, and we're only in early July. I'm already ready already.

1) Favre Is Back - Chris Mortensen has just reported that Brett Favre "emphatically expressed" in a conference call with the Packers that he is coming back this year. He has had his agent, Bus Cook, overnight a letter to the Packers requesting his release.

PSYCH!!!!

That Favre is so realistic about having to go elsewhere to finish his career is reassuring, but what incentive do the Packers have to release him now, rather than try to make sure they can send him out of the NFC? I suspect the Packers will remove Favre from the retired list and try to shop him around, consulting with Favre as well. Given his struggles in the Metrodome, I don't think the Vikings are as high on Favre's list as experts would have us believe. I suspect he could end up in Tampa, with a head coach who has excelled with older QBs before (Gruden and Rich Gannon).

2) Matt Jones Caught with Cocaine - I don't have much to add to this story. Jones has struggled at times in Jacksonville, having converted from Arkansas QB to NFL WR. When you get picked up at 4:11 a.m. in Arkansas with cocaine in your possession (reportedly cutting it into lines with a credit card, hopefully platinum, not Winn-Dixie), there aren't a lot of good excuses.

No coke sheen? Cops must not have even let him have a little bump. Fascists.


3) Redskins' Name Survives Court Challenge - For the second time, a federal court has refused to cancel the Washington Redskins' trademark at the request of a Native American group. For the second time, the court said that the Native American plaintiffs waited too long to bring the suit. The legalese word for this is "laches", and the concept is that a) it must not hurt that much if you waited so long and b) it's not fair to the defendant to fear lawsuits for eternity. It's basically a common law statute of limitations.


I can't believe they settled for lifetime passes to Six Flags America.



To be clear, no federal court has ever said that the team's name is not patently racist. They've only said that they choose not to hear the case because the name has been used for now over 70 years (as a trademark for over 40), and that evidence of the damage the name has done to Native American communities is spotty at best.

Yeah, it's bullshit. Congress puts statutes of limitations on acts all the time. It chose not to for this one. That should be evidence that they did not want there to be one, not that courts were free to decide their own.

If you want to read about the case's progress prior to now, Wikipedia has a nice summary. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board actually cancelled the Redskins trademark in 1999. On appeal by the team, the United States District Court for D.C. reinstated the trademarks, saying there was insufficient evidence of disparagement, and that the doctrine of laches made the suit unfair to the Redskins. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with the District Court in 2005, but sent the case back to District Court to decide whether laches also barred the claim of one plaintiff who was only one year old in 1967 when the mark was registered, and thus could not legally have sued until 1984. Today's ruling determined that waiting from 1984 to 1992, when this matter was first brought to the Trademark Office, also constituted laches.

If you're wondering, it is poor form for a District Court to say "seriously, we're not going to make an NFL team change names just for a few of you Indians." It's much more professional just to say "laches" and shrug.

Tour de France Doping Scandal #1

And so it begins... We all had a sick feeling in the pits of our stomachs that once again this year's Tour would produce positive drug tests, and today that has been confirmed. This post is labeled scandal #1 because just like cockroaches, when you find one, there are lots more you can't see. And recent history indicates that we will see more than one positive test over the next couple weeks.

As yet another member of USPS/Discovery during Lance's reign has been caught doping, one has to wonder whether this is part of a continuing French conspiracy to discredit Lance's legacy. Or maybe Lance was doping along with his entire team, and they were just good enough not to get caught. Or maybe his team was doping, but he's actually innocent as he has so vehemently and vigorously claimed. Too bad the same defense didn't work out as well for Floyd.

While this may be unfortunate for team Liquigas, Manuel Beltran's positive test is unlikely to significantly affect the outcome of this year's Tour. It's just another black mark on cycling's filthy doping record.

Terps Football Picked 3rd in Division


It's not the best era for Terps football when I'm excited to say that Heather Dinich expects us to finish 3rd in the Atlantic Division of the ACC. That puts us in front of FSU and BC, with NC State in the cellar. With gobs of talent, Clemson is expected to win the division, and Wake's scheme and experience puts them 2nd preseason.

Assuming Fridge doesn't do anything stupid like start Steffy, we should be making bowl plans in December. My hopes would be a little higher, but the schedule's tough. I would predict 8-4, with losses vs Cal, at Clemson, at VT, and one of BC and FSU. However, that's probably best-case, and 7-5 might be more likely. Hopefully, Franklin's offense is all everyone expects it to be.

Baltimore Sports Fans Rejoice - The WNBA May Be Coming!

Talk about your all time rotten carrot at the end of the stick. In today's Baltimore Sun, there is a prominent story about how Baltimore hopes to lure a WNBA franchise to a potential new arena that is under consideration to replace the ancient and long outdated First Mariner Arena (good for the occasional Lil' Wayne or Idols World Tour event). Apparently Dixon believes that the prospect of a WNBA team may convince city leaders to pony up the bucks to build a new arena:
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Representatives of the WNBA have met with Mayor Sheila Dixon to discuss the possibility of moving a franchise to Baltimore once a new downtown arena is built, Dixon said yesterday.
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The mayor also said she would like to see the new facility built on the same downtown site where the 14,000-seat 1st Mariner Arena stands.
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Dixon mentioned the possibility of attracting a women's basketball franchise after being asked if a new arena should be large enough for an NBA team.
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"I think we need a larger arena," she said. "But I don't think we should rely on attracting the NBA."
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For those not aware of Baltimore politics, Sheila Dixon is currently under investigation for various shady development deals that may or may not have involved benefits given to her former boyfriend. Sheila Dixon is more famously known amongst Terp fans for being Juan Dixon's aunt:
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No, it's not Juan Dixon in drag.
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So Baltimore, congratulations. I can't wait for the rivalry between the Mystics and the Baltimore as-of-yet-unnamed WNBA franchise. What should we go with? The Baltimore Propositions? The Yellowtops? The WMDs? How about following tradition of WNBA cities that don't have NBA teams and going with the singular nickname... The Baltimore Block (this logo could be a whole lot of fun - plus you have cross-sponsorship opportunities where the team's players entertain on special evenings at The Hustler Club or The Two O'Clock Club).
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Anyway, at least Baltimore fans could go to games against the San Antonio Silver Stars and see Becky Hammon (even though she is CHOOSING to compete for Russia in the Olympics):



July 10, 2008

American Teams Off to Strong Start in Tour de France

Mark Cavendish, exuberant after his Stage 5 victory

Cycling is not the major sport in the US that it is in much of Europe, and very little buzz surrounded the entry of two American-based teams in the Tour this year, even though it's the first time two American teams have ever participated in a Tour. However, much to everyone's surprise, the American teams have done quite well so far. In fact, they're dominating.

Today, after the first mountain stage, Kim Kirchen of Team Columbia took the overall race lead after Schumacher crashed in the yellow jersey in the final kilometer. Kirchen's top 5 finish also propelled him into first in the points race, giving him the prestigious green jersey as well. Too bad he can't wear both on the same day. He'll be in yellow tomorrow.

In addition, Mark Cavendish won yesterday's stage for Team Columbia. At 23 the future is very bright for this young British sprinter, and this was his first stage win. Team Columbia used to be T-Mobile, one of the strongest teams in the Tour, and little but the sponsor and the faces appear to have changed.

Is that a sweater-vest on his leg? At least they changed those unis before the Tour.

Meanwhile, team Garmin-Chipotle is #1 in the team rankings and has been since stage 3. Christian Vande Velde, the top American in the race, is 4th overall and only 44 seconds behind, and David Millar, the team's leader, is 3 more seconds back in 5th.

All I can add is "Way to go boys! Keep doing what you're doing."

For a stage-by-stage update on the American teams, click here.

Five Irreplaceable Attributes of Favre

Brett has "the itch" to come back and play. Here are the 5 top attributes of Favre that the Pack will miss in his absence if he's not in uniform this fall.

That's a good enough title to be my starting QB.

Experience - Might as well start with the obvious. Favre has started 255 regular-season games for the Packers, not to mention the Super Bowls and other playoff experience. What has Aaron Rodgers done that gives you confidence he'll be able to handle the pressure of the postseason, if he can get the Pack there?

Talent - Favre won 3 straight MVP's, and by all accounts, was very close to that form last year. He can still throw the ball harder than almost anyone, but also has touch as needed. What are the odds of Rodgers winning even one MVP?

Health - Very few starting quarterbacks can consistently stay healthy over the course of an NFL season. Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, Jake Delhomme, Joey Harrington... all failed to make it through the season last year. Brett Favre, while older than he used to be, has yet to miss a start, long-since the record holder for consecutive starts. Brady and Manning are consistent as well, but how many other quarterbacks can you say that about? There's no guarantee Aaron Rodgers will even start 12 games if he's the starting QB going into the season. Favre is as close to a guarantee as it gets.

Leadership - Favre and his gray hair will command a lot more respect in that huddle than Rodgers. When the holder of almost every passing record in the books talks, you listen. Never mind that he's been the GB starter since the rookies were in grade school. Rodgers could be a great leader, but it takes time to establish that.

Fun - No QB in the league has more fun on and off the field than Brett Favre. That attitude will be irreplaceable, both on gameday to break the tension and during practices to keep things light but focused. Aaron Rodgers will be too busy trying to fill Favre's shoes to think about having fun.

Ever heard the expression "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? The Pack hosted the NFC Championship last year with a very young team. If given the choice, do you really want to try to repeat that with a new player at the most important position? You could be bringing in Brady or Manning, and it might not be as good next year because there's a learning curve for any quarterback in a system they haven't run before. The QB has to learn and the coaches have to learn what the QB can do well.

This year's schedule will not be a cakewalk for the Pack. The NFC North is not the best division in football, but the Vikings have a formidable running game and defense, and the Bears will be healthier (though maybe not better). The matchup with the NFC South is also benificial, but that's where it ends. The Pack plays the AFC South this year, which was clearly the best division in football last year. In addition, as division winners from last year, the Pack gets Dallas and at Seattle for its other two games, while their competitors the Vikings play NYG and at Arizona. In my mind, that screams no wild card from the NFC North, but 11-5 would almost certainly win the division. I'm pretty confident Favre could win 11, but Rodgers? No idea.

Rodgers has been practicing his celebrations, at Family Night anyway. (AP Photo)

So what are the arguments for going with Rodgers even if Favre wants to play?

The building for the future concept should hold no weight because GB was in the NFC title game last year, and the future is now. With the current parity in the NFL and the salary cap, Green Bay's window of opportunity with this group may not last long enough for Rodgers to learn the system and become a star. In addition, Rodgers doesn't even appear to have the full confidence of the Pack front office anyway. Otherwise, why did they draft Brohm in the second round and Flynn in the seventh?

No one wants to go through this retirement snafu every year, but is it really so bad that you're willing to pass up having a first ballot Hall of Famer play for another year when he's still playing great? I would think not.

One recent SC poll showed that half the country thought the Pack should not take Favre back. The Pack would be quite foolish to pass up a chance to have Favre play another year, for all the reasons listed above. But that assumes that Brett wants to and would commit to it. If he's in top form, the Pack should put him on the field. For another argument from this point of view, check out ESPN.

July 9, 2008

RichRod Now Less So

Former head coach Rich Rodriguez has settled his dispute with West Virginia University over the $4M buyout clause in his contract. West Virginia made great concessions, allowing Rich Rodriguez to pay $1.5M over three years, rather than RIGHT F*[email protected] NOW like the contract required, with Michigan kicking in the remaining $2.5M. A great victory indeed for LessRichRod and the Maize and Blue.

"Hey, look what I just pulled out of my ass!"

Who could have forseen that they'd pony up the whole $4M? Oh yeah, us.

--Rich Rodriguez "Disappointed", "Upset" by WVU Suit (Jan. 2, 2008)
--Rich Rodriguez? The Governor Is on Line Four (Jan. 30, 2008)

For those curious, Rodriguez's contract with Michigan reported pays him $2.5M per year. Take out taxes and the $500,000 he's paying annually to WVU, and it's a big hurting.

Oh, and Rich had better f-ing believe that the IRS is waiting patiently to make sure Rich claims the $2.5M Michigan is paying on his behalf as income. He's going to owe money on the year. I suppose I should be more clear. I'm not saying he won't get a refund. I'm saying he'll owe so much in taxes on $2.5M (salary) AND $2.5M (Michigan-paid penalty) that he might actually be in the red for the year. He'll owe somewhere around $1.5M to $1.75M on that income, depending on his deductions, in addition to whatever he owes the liberal state of Michigan (3.9% of federal tax income).

Don't believe me on the tax mumbo jumbo? Check out this article (free registration to retrieve full text article) written for the Florida Tax Review analyzing a similar buyout payment situation...with purloined-Mountaineer-turned-Michigan-basketball coach John Beilein. They said:

Beilein’s buyout obligation arose out of his employment relationship with West Virginia University. It is his personal obligation. There is considerable authority that an employer’s payment of an employee’s personal obligation constitutes gross income to the employee. It is very likely, therefore, that the Service would contend that the new employer’s payment of the buyout obligation is additional compensation to the employee and taxable to him. (internal citations ommitted).

The authors go on to cite a few ways in which Beilein might be able to deduct the "compensation", but I disagree with all of them, though Brien would argue that a buy-out in a college coaching contract is just about as close as you can come to an "ordinary and necessary" business expense these days.

So much for taking the money and running. What percentage, exactly, of Michigan alumni donations to the athletics department covers damages?

Seven Deadly Sins of Sports Celebrity


With news of A-Rod's affair with Madonna breaking last week, you may have found yourself wondering why he got off so easy with the media. Sure, people were interested in the story, but they weren't all that critical of A-Rod's actions. Why do some scandals involving sports celebrities bring out the protesters and some don't?


The reason A-Rod got a free pass is that he didn't commit one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Sports Celebrity. Scandals involving one of these sins turn into media circuses while other scandals blow over quickly. Next time an athlete does something stupid, consult this list to determine the fallout.

Racism
Any scandal involving even accusations of racism immediately takes on another level of significance. Sportswriters just love any chance to trot out pages of righteous indignation that race is still an issue in America today.


Examples: Jimmy the Greek, Duke Lacrosse, Kelly Tilghman

Anything Involving Figure Skating
For some reason, figure skating scandals are always bigger than they should be. Maybe it's because there's not much else going on in the Winter Olympics or maybe the sports media thinks they can attract some female readership. Whatever the reason, figure skating scandals reach epic proportions very quickly.


Examples: Harding-Kerrigan, Canadian Silver Medalists (the French judge)

Old White Men Having Kinky Sex
The idea that old white men (especially the straight-laced ones) might have interesting sex lives is always a big story. It's hilarious to think that the guy who reads you the scores during the day is dressing up in drag that night.

Examples: Marv Albert, Pat O'Brien, Max Mosely

Gambling
Gambling scandals bring with them a degree of seediness. When people think of gambling scandals, there's always intimations that maybe the mob is involved. Gambling also calls into question the integrity of sports, so people take it very seriously.


Examples: Tim Donaghy, Charles Barkley, Pete Rose, Nikolay Davydenko

Cruelty to Animals
This one caught a lot of people off guard when the Mike Vick dog fighting story broke. People assumed that a scandal involving dogs wouldn't be that big of a deal. Those people were wrong. Americans love their dogs more than their families, and anyone treating animals badly will quickly become a pariah.

Examples: Mike Vick, Vince Young

Anything Involving Feces
Poop makes a scandal way more interesting. Or maybe disgusting. Or just smelly. Whatever it is, if an athlete is involved with a poop scandal, it will haunt him for the rest of his career.


Examples: Najeh Davenport, Osi Umenyiora

Killing Your White or Pregnant Wife

The granddaddy of them all. If you kill your white or pregnant wife, even if you are acquitted, you're in trouble.
Examples: OJ Simpson, Rae Carruth

There you have it, a cheat sheet for evaluating the severity of sports scandals. The lesson to be learned here is that if Jim Nantz and Kimmie Meissner ever film a scat/snuff film featuring a dog and a KKK hood in Vegas, the Internet will explode.

Potential Naming Rights Suitors for Nationals Park

Ok, so the television ratings are on par with the 2 a.m. showing of Cheaters on WDCA. Attendance figures, while not dismal, are disappointing and partly inflated by a season ticket base that might not be so motivated to re-up next year. Other indicators of interest, such as internet traffic and MLB.com's ability to identify which league the Nats play in are embarrassing.

Clearly, this isn't such a good time to be selling the stadium's naming rights...or is it? The price might have come down just enough to let some more intriguing players into the bidding.

1) Easterns Motors - Easterns Motors has achieved local notoriety for their use of local sports celebrities in their commercials. I assume they have used a Nat or two, though I, of course, have no idea what any Nats look like. Perhaps they could jump in with a bid.



2) Kim's Karate - "Nobody bothers me! Nobody bothers me, either!" It's the perfect sentiment for those lonely nights at Kim's Karate Park when you're the only fan in your section.



3) Saiontz, Kirk and Miles - "When you have a phone, you have a reliever." This is perfect for the many, many calls to the bullpen Manny Acta will be making for the foreseeable future. Or at least for the season or so he has left.



4) Senate Insurance - These commercials are a local legend, thanks to the catchphrase "Kiss my bumper! Just kiss it!" There are multiple in-game tie-ins with this sponsorship. If the Nats ever win a game before their last out, announcers could call it the Senate Insurance Run. On the rare occasions the Nats homer, the announcers could do a little "Kiss it goodbye! Just kiss it!". I like the options here.



5) Six Flags - This is too easy to resist. Redskins owner Danny Boy Snyder, when not paying wrongful decapitation and wrongful de-foot-itation damages, owns Six Flags also. If you click the play button below, you'll see that awful We Like to Party/Venga Boys commercial with the creepy old dancing guy.



6) Koons Ford/Toyota/Etc. - Ok, I've always been strangely attracted to Crystal Koons.



Any other ideas?

July 8, 2008

Future Olympic Events

The Olympics already include quite a few events, but there are other sports vying for acceptance at the Olympic level. Some are played as demonstrations at each Olympics to determine if they deserve promotion while others are officially recognized but not currently included. Here's a look at a few we think deserve some consideration.
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When I think high-flying, I think korfball. Doesn't everyone?

Korfball
A recognized sport similar to netball, korfball is a tactical co-ed sport in which they players must outsmart their opponents in order to throw the ball through the hoop. To my uneducated eyes, this is soccer, basketball, and ultimate frisbee combined. I'm just waiting for the green Double Dare goop to fall out of that basket onto them.
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"What do we do now that it's stuck? I can't fly that high!"

Boules
Known as Bocce in the US and already a recognized sport, this is a very interesting case study. Played very much like curling and shuffleboard, the idea is to get your balls/stones as close to the target as possible, inside of your opponent's closest ball. However, is this really any different from golf (another recognized sport)? What about horseshoes? Isn't that just throwing objects at a target also? They would have to play Bocce on a really slick surface to make this competitive at a high level, but given a difficult enough course, this could be interesting. On the other hand there would finally be a summer sport other than soccer that the Italians would have a shot in.

Wushu
A mix between karate and gymnastics, this recognized sport is popular in China and will have a competition at this year's Olympics, though the IOC has specifically stated it is not a demonstration event. Like figure skating there are cumpulsory and free-style events, both individually and in groups. There is spectacular choreographed sparring with weapons, including the staff, spear, sword, and fist. Just like any other "sport" with subjective scoring, I don't know if it belongs, but it might be cool to watch.

This looks like gymnastics until you notice they're holding swords.

Chess Boxing
Tired of hearing about players with great "sports IQs"? Always hate that the chess nerds weren't athletic? Tired of listening to another unintelligible athlete interview? This is the sport for you. The combination of an Olympic sport (boxing) and a recognized sport (chess), the contestants box and play chess through 11 alternating rounds. Brains and brawn are both required to master this ultimate challenge. I can't wait to see this. How many times have you heard a quote like this about chess: "I took a lot of body-blows in the fourth round and that affected my concentration. That's why I made a big mistake in the fifth round: I did not see him coming for my king.''
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Checkmate is hard to avoid when groggy. Is that a left hook or a Latvian Gambit? (Photo: AFP)

How about Lennox Lewis vs. Vitali Klitschko in chess boxing? ESPN says it's not as far-fetched as you think.



Beer Pong
A mix between table tennis and kegstanding, this recognized sport (at all American universities, anyway) is quite popular. Not to be confused with spinoffs like beer die, the originality and popularity of beer pong should distinguish it to the IOC. Really it's the same concept as nordic biathlon, so I don't see why it wouldn't be accepted. Both involve making it hard to shoot straight (by either vigorous exercise or drinking) and a penalty if you miss and your opponent doesn't (more exercise or drinking).

While some of these sports may seem odd or outlandish, consider that racewalking is already an Olympic sport, and ballroom dancing has already been a demonstration sport. It's only a matter of time until some cool new sport sweeps the world and makes the Olympics. Here's to hoping it's chess boxing!

July 7, 2008

CDC Celebrates - Nats' Fever Eradicated

Really, Washington, you don't have to honor the Expos' legacy this much...

According to the SportsBusiness Journal (as reported by DCRTV.com), television ratings for the Nats on MASN and MASN2 are down 43.5% since last year, drawing only a 0.39 share of television viewing (despite now being available on all cable providers). This is the lowest in Major League Baseball ("by a lot" according to the Post's Dan Steinberg), and means that an average of only 9,000 households are watching the Nats.


Steinberg puts the problem in perspective. Boston, St. Louis and Minnesota enjoy 9.75, 8.04 and 6.92 shares respectively. The worst ratings, other than the Nats, are in L.A. (understandably) with the Angels at 1.24 and the Dodgers at 1.57 and in Dallas (1.49). The "average household" numbers are more staggering, with the Nats at 9,000 looking way up at small market teams like the Royals (28,000), Orioles (33,000) and Pirates (34,000).

Steinberg is also privy to the Post's web numbers on Nats-based traffic, but he cannot divulge them. He only says that the traffic is "very disappointing".

That's not a good sign that the Nats are building a fan base. To make matters worse, attendance figures are still middling, defusing the excuse that people would rather watch the game in person than on television. As of tonight the Nats are averaging 29,754 tickets sold per game in the inaugural season at Nationals Park (naming rights dropping in price daily!), corresponding to 72.5% of stated capacity.


There are two arguments I've made on this blog that have been ridiculed. The first arose when the Orioles were beaten by the Texas Rangers by the score of 30-3 last August. I argued that at least the humiliating defeat made the Orioles relevant, and that the Nats couldn't buy a headline. Watch SportsCenter and tell me how many Nats highlights you see, and you'll start to see it my way. The second argument was that the Nats wouldn't last a decade in Washington. I'm still sticking by that one.

Overall, I think Steinberg sums it up best: "Why do we have a baseball team?" Read the following to see our thoughts on the same question.

Ballpark Review - Petco Park

It's difficult to do a ballpark review without actually attending a game there. Some might say it's not all that fair. Well that, my friends, is the liberty that I get with reviewing a stadium for a blog. Screw you if you want a game, you're going to get my review from a walkaround and walkthrough of the ballpark on gameday. I personally preferred cheap margaritas and good Mexican food than seeing a riveting Padres-Twins interleague game (raise your hand if you think interleague should be limited to local "rivalry" series).
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This is the view from leftfield at Petco from the team store, where you can buy such beautiful items as this:
or this
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However, despite the array of largely hideous apparel from one of the most offensive teams to ever grace the uniform world (hello Paul Lukas), the team store does give access to a pen in the leftfield corner while the game is not going on.
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The team store is housed in the old Western Metal Company building which is built into the leftfield line and gives Petco its signature quirk.

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The terraces along the Western Metal Supply Company building offer seating. What you see in the foreground are the seats in the "park in the park." This is Petco's version of standing room only. For a few bucks on the day of the game, you get access to the park just behind the centerfield seats, a few in-stadium food vendors, and access to this grassy berm with backless bleacher seating. However, the bleachers are curved conveniently for one's ass to fit in.
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In the background of the picture above, you can see arguably the most important thing about Petco... a large highrise representing the revitalization of the Gaslamp Quarter neighborhood of San Diego. Petco stands along the San Diego Bay at the southern end of Gaslamp. Gaslamp is about a twenty-square-block area of vibrance. Gaslamp separates Petco from the downtown business district. On game nights, the bars in Gaslamp along 4th and 5th streets are hopping, especially after games let out. From locals in San Diego, I hear that Gaslamp used to be an area of urban decay. If this is true, then Petco really is proof of how a ballpark can revitalize a downtown area.
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The weather for games in San Diego can't be beat. However, even for a game in late June, it's going to be in the upper 50s or low 60s by the end of the game, with a fairly strong breeze outside since you are right near the water. Bring a jacket, even in the dead of summer.
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As stated, Petco benefits from beautiful weather. Petco also benefits from easy access by mass transit from San Diego's light rail system. However, my gut reaction is that Petco is like the guy who is reasonably talented at hoops and has a good jump shot, but is obsessed with trying to be the guy with all the talent and the flashy game and never will be that guy. Don't get me wrong... Petco is nice. It's certainly nicer than Angels Stadium. However, it tries to pull off the retro look somewhat unsuccessfully. The building that juts into leftfield is an unadulterated rip off the Warehouse at Camden Yards. The outdoor scaffolding of the stadium though is very much like Nationals Park - exposed steelwork. The stadium backs to San Diego Bay so that the Bay is roughly behind home plate. Like Nationals Park, Petco Park was placed on a plot of land that handicapped it from maximizing the benefit of the city's skyline.
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I've heard that Petco has excellent food options. I can tell you from walking past exposed menus on the shuttered vendors that those food options are RIDICULOUSLY expensive, only eclipsed by maybe Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, and Fenway Park. Bottom line, nice stadium, very clean, nice accessibility, great rehab of a neighborhood, and a hell of an upgrade over Qualcomm Stadium.

FINAL GRADE FOR PETCO PARK: B+

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New Sporting Events Inspired by Running of the Bulls

The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, began today. Overall, the event went as planned with only 13 injuries (including one punctured lung/fractured ribs/ruptured spleen combo and a couple concussions) reported. The famous outing is ridiculous and silly, but it did get me thinking about some potential athletic events...
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1) Cracklympics - Don't let the title fool you. We're not limiting this to just crackheads, but also smack snorters and meth addicts. The inaugural event could, and should, be held in East Baltimore. Highlights include the back-alley dash and 20K scrap metal relay.
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The entire event would culminate in a little Cops & Robbers chase I like to call Flee & Fling. The competitor and a police officer begin the race at arm's length. At the gun, the crackhead must outrun the police officer (while wearing unlaced shoes and sagging pants) while simultaneously attempting to ditch a small baggy of rock cocaine (NO SWALLOWING!). The clock stops when the cops lose sight of the athlete. If it stops for five straight minutes, the time is entered. Lowest time wins. If the baggy is found by a four-person search team, the competitor is disqualified.
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One highlight will be the alternative award for the competitor with the most creative attempt at hiding.

Obviously, the typical performance-enhancing drug testing regiment would have to modified. Only sobriety would disqualify competitors.
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2) Who Wants to Marry A-Rod? - What perfect timing! News broke today that A-Rod's wife is filing for divorce. Naturally, the near-billionaire will need someone else with whom to pass the time. Why not combine the search with VH-1's penchant for quality matchmaking television.
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Naturally, only women who match A-Rod's taste for high-quality tail need apply. Below are some examples of what the judges will be looking for:
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NOTE: Presence of a (visible) Adam's Apple is disqualfying. Also, contestants should refrain from wearing t-shirts containing obscenities.

3) Clubhouse Scavenger Hunt - In the tradition of the old childhood/sorority scavenger hunt, we'll invite some lucky contestants to rip through an MLB clubhouse, trying to find various items. The first to collect them all wins dinner within spitting distance of Bud Selig. Items to find include:

--"Clean" B-12 syringe
--Skoal Citrus Blend pouch (no other flavors permitted, contestant must taste to verify)
--Sunflower Seed with Virgin Mary patterning
--Used condoms containing at least three different shades of lipstick (aka the Reno Rainbow)
--Chuck Knoblauch's confidence
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spacerpacer Use of a mechanical sweeper or rubber gloves is disqualifying.

spacerspacepacerspacerspacer A potential host?

Got any other bright ideas?

MLB Stats Comparison - 1988, 1998 and 2008

As we approach the All-Star Break in baseball, some statistics stand out as having returned to pre-steroids era normalcy. Here's a look at where the eventual leaders were in 1988 and 1988 after 88 games (or thereabouts for pitchers), compared to where the current leader in each category stands.

Home Runs
1988 - Jose Canseco - 24 (led league with 42)
1998 - Mark McGwire - 37 (led league with 70)
2008 - Chase Utley - 24
Sammy Sosa
RBIs
1988 - Jose Canseco - 67 (led league with 124)
1998 - Sammy Sosa - 83 (led league with 158)
2008 - Josh Hamilton - 84


Batting Avg
1988 - Wade Boggs - .358 (ended year at .366)
1998 - Larry Walker - .335 (ended year at .363)
2008 - Chipper Jones - .388

Wins
1988 - Frank Viola - 15 (led league with 24)
1998 - Tom Glavine, Roger Clemens, David Cone, Rick Helling
scr- 12, 9, 13, 12 (all led league with 20)
2008 - Brandon Webb, Joe Saunders - 12


ERA
1988 - Joe Magrane - 2.50 (led league with 2.18)
1998 - Greg Maddux - 1.54 (led league with 2.22)
2008 - Justin Duchscherer - 1.96

Strikeouts
1988 - Roger Clemens - 202 (led league with 291)
1998 - Curt Schilling - 189 (led league with 300)
2008 - Tim Lincecum - 122

(NOTE: Sabathia has 123 but his total resets upon joining the NL/Brewers)

Innings Pitched
1988 - Dave Stewart - 156 2/3 (led league with 275 2/3)
1998 - Curt Schilling - 154 (led league with 268 2/3)
2008 - Roy Hallday - 137 1/3

Tour de France Starts Strong

No Prologue
This year, the Tour directors decided to skip the prologue stage and get straight to the action, and I think that decision worked out great. The first stage was more exciting because everyone knew the winner of the sprint would wear the yellow jersey as the leader of the Tour. But the Tour was smart about it, and made it an uphill sprint. This made it competitive between the pure sprinters, the time trial artists, and the climbers. Alejandro Valverde, a contender capable of winning it all, took the sprint in exciting fashion. A flat sprint, as is usually seen in the first stage, would have given a pure sprinter the yellow jersey, even though he will probably finish half an hour behind on every mountain stage.

Valverde led after the first stage. Photo: Cor Vos

Yesterday, the second stage in Brittany was basically the standard early Tour stage. A small breakaway of 4 riders established a lead, but they were caught by the peloton (main pack) before the finish. The team of the yellow jersey (Caisse d'Epargne for Valverde) paced the peloton and made sure nothing weird happened early, while the sprinters' teams pulled the breakaway in later to allow a sprint finish and a chance for their star to win a stage. Thor Hushovd, one of the best sprinters in this year's Tour, took the slightly uphill finish, chasing down a couple daring attempts near the end, including one by time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara. Valverde safely finished with the lead pack, maintaining his 1 second lead.

No Time Bonuses
In another change from previous years, riders will not receive time bonuses (deductions from their overall time) for winning stages or intermediate sprints and climbs. This has kept the GC (general classification = overall time rankings for the yellow jersey) quite close and made the racing more interesting at times. For example, Cancellara could have claimed the yellow jersey yesterday with a slight break from the front group in the sprint. Later, this will keep the leader closer to his competitors, as the time bonus would only have added to the time difference in stages he wins.

Today's Stage - SPOILER Alert (Stop Reading if you want to watch today's stage later)
The third stage was a fascinating exercise in strategy. With a time trial looming tomorrow, none of the overall contenders wanted to expend a lot of energy. Valverde's team, normally responsible for keeping the breakaway within reach because he is the leader, was not inspired to really do the work today. None of the four men in the breakaway are considered threats in the mountains, and relinquishing the yellow jersey will allow Valverde's team to rest some before having to potentially protect him in the mountains. However, it would really be shocking if Romain Feillu, or any of the others in the top 3 today, can do well enough in the time trial tomorrow to maintain a lead over the Valverde and the other serious contenders. So Feillu can have his moment of glory, but the big boys will be back in the lead in time to control the peloton on Wednesday. The only losers here are the sprinters, who lost one of their few chances at a stage victory. These larger men have no chance in the mountains.

Expect to see Fabian Cancellara going fast tomorrow. (Photo: Team CSC)

Time Trial Tomorrow
Every year time trials play a critical role in the Tour, as each rider is on his own to ride as fast as he can. As the fourth stage, the first major time trial is an opportunity for specialists, like Cancellara, to take the overall lead in the Tour. While the major contenders might not win outright, how they fare with respect to each other will determine their standing from now until the mountains. For Garmin-Chipotle, this will be the first chance to see if David Millar will be able to compete for the yellow jersey.

Greatest Tennis Match Ever?

I'm not sure, but I do know it was the best match I've ever seen.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were both playing at the top of their games, and they turned in one of the great performances of the year. So often these "epic" matches don't live up to the hype and the media-manufactured rivalries are duds. This match was one of the rare times that reality exceeds expectations.

Initially, it looked like Rafa would shock the world by walking over Federer after taking the first two sets. Federer fought back through two entire on-serve sets and took both tiebreakers to even the match. Both men stayed on serve through the first 14 games of the fifth set until Nadal finally broke Federer as night started to fall on London. Two rain delays had extended the match until the very last sliver of daylight (the All England Club doesn't have lighted courts). Thankfully, the match didn't have to be suspended until Monday, which would have broken the unbelievable tension on the court and in the stands.


Federer didn't choke this match away. He played a great match and fought back from the brink of elimination several times to push the match into extra games. A lesser competitor (*cough* Andy Roddick) would have packed it in down two sets to zero, but Federer never let up. Nadal could have let himself get overwhelmed by Federer's momentum going into the fifth set, but he too stayed cool and continued playing his best game. Both players hit more amazing shots than I can count. Nadal got to balls that I thought were unhittable and Federer made Nadal work for every point.

Many commentators have bemoaned the state of men's tennis lately, and I had tended to agree with them. The arguments went something like this: Federer's too boring. Nadal's too foreign. When is that Andy Roddick guy finally going to get good?

I think after this match, we can safely say that men's tennis is just fine, even if we won't see the same level of interest as if one of the two rivals was an American. Like Russell said in his preview, can you imagine if Tiger and Phil were in the final pairing for the Masters and the British Open 3 years in a row? We're witnessing a great rivalry and it's time we started appreciating it.

I should also mention that Russell's foolish attempt to predict the final score of a tennis match was astonishingly close. He predicted Nadal winning 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-7, 10-8. Nadal ended up winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7.