Thursday, July 28, 2011

Born Again?

Every sport has "Stand Up" moments, ones that make you get out of your seat because something cool is about to possibly happen. I stand up when LeBron and Wade are on the break. I stand up when the Sandman has a 2-strike count (Yankee blasphemy if you don't). And I stand up when Vick tucks the ball like a halfback, unleashing his inner pitbull. (Sorry. I love dogs, but I couldn't help myself there.)

Of course, standing up doesn't actually make the moment cooler. And it obviously doesn't increase the likelihood of anything happening. But we do it anyway. When the moment actually happens, it is as if we are being rewarded for our anxious anticipation.

Now, I was definitely excited by the US Women's team. But my buddy Alvy mentioned that I probably cared more than usual about a women's sport because I'm a certifiable Alex Morgan creepjob. That was coupled with wanting America to beat every other country in absolutely everything, earthquake suffering be damned. So I felt that this "soccer thing" would just pass.

Fast track to last night, when I attended the MLS All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena. To my surprise, there were a ton of Stand Up moments. When David Beckham put the ball in the air, I got up. When any player carried the ball close to the 18, I got up. Basically, when anybody did something that I try to do every Thursday night, I got up.

What do I do with this? YOUR New York Red Bulls are kinda cool, and their proximity is certainly a plus. But isn't being an MLS fan the same thing as being an NBA D-League fan? I harbor the same emotions for the Seattle Sounders that I do for the Idaho Stampede. As in, I feel nothing. The best futbol teams don't play in this country, and it pisses me off more than you'd think. Yet, I find myself on the road to becoming a true soccer fan. Got probs with that? Blame David Stern.

I learned that the Premier League will start a new season in a couple of weeks. I'll echo Simmons (who else?) and accept suggestions as to what team (or even what League) to start following. Or I'll just continue being American and let the world's most beautiful game pass me by...again.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Life and Times of Metta World Peace

Ron Artest is a fine name. But what does that name really mean? Is there a message I can grab from those two words? When I hear the name "Ron Artest", do I leave richer for the experience? No. No sir, I do NOT. But a name like Metta World Peace? That's a message.

About a month ago, Lakers forward Ron Artest decided to change his name to Metta World Peace, petitioning the Los Angeles Municipal Court with the proper paperwork. Hopefully Metta himself did not fill out the forms.

This is not a post to debate the merits or disadvantages of such an action; it's stupid. There, argument settled. But this did get me thinking that this little stunt of Mr. World Peace is just one in a long line of illustriously madcap ideas that he's had. In fact, if I were to make a list of all the ridiculous things he's done over the past 10 years, I'm not sure that changing his name to Metta World Peace (by the way, is his last name Peace? Or is it World Peace? And can you imagine Marv Albert calling a Lakers game next year? "And World Peace, from the corner...YES! METTA WORLD PEACE, WITH...THE....DAGGER!") would even stand out. Well, you be the judge. Presenting the Life and Times of Metta World Peace.

June to September, 2000: Metta applies for a job at a Chicago Circuit City, primarily so he could take advantage of the store's employee discount. Under references, he used Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Krause. As for his previous work experience, he wrote "NBA Player".

June to September, 2001: World Peace guards his idol and former Chicago Bull Michael Jordan. Metta plays with such tenacity and intensity, that he in fact breaks two of Michael's ribs in the process. In a summer pick-up game.

February 23rd, 2004: Out for a month due to thumb surgery, World Peace shows up at an Indiana Pacers practice wearing a bathrobe over his practice gear. He says that the robe was a reminder to "take it easy" following surgery.

November 11th, 2004: World Peace reportedly gets suspended by then Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle for asking for a month off to recuperate from "exhaustion". "Exhaustion" from promoting a new R&B record he produced. World Peace and Carlisle later said that it was all a misunderstanding and though World Peace did ask for time off, he "said it the wrong way".

November 9th, 2004: World Peace, along with Ben Wallace, triggers a brawl that would eventually involve the entire Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and patrons of the Palace at Auburn Hills. Maybe you've heard of this. I hope it's on youtube.

November, 2005: World Peace shaves "Tru Warier" into the back of his head, as promotion for his record label. David Stern was excited at the notion, saying how happy he was that his players were such enterprising young men.

December 12th, 2005: After missing 86 games (including the playoffs) with Indiana the previous season due to suspension, World Peace constantly claims how happy he is to finally be returning to the Pacers for the 2005-2006 season. He asked for a trade just a month later.

July 9th, 2006: With the Sacramento Kings, World Peace jokingly threatens to kill teammate Bonzi Wells if he did not resign with the Kings that summer. Wells somehow lived to sign with the Houston Rockets instead.

June 17th, 2008: After the Lakers lost the deciding game 6 to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Finals, World Peace, fully dressed, walked into the Lakers' shower room after the loss. He then proceeded to tell a naked, pissed-off and wet Kobe Bryant that he'd love to sign with LA one day and help Kobe win a championship. To this day, Kobe maintains that he has no idea how World Peace got into the locker room.

On a sidenote, where did you originally think that last hyperlink was going to?

July 31st, 2008: After his trade from the Sacramento Kings to the Houston Rockets, center Yao Ming jokingly comments that "hopefully he's [Metta} not fighting anymore and going after a guy in the stands." In response, Artest said, "This is Tracy (McGrady) and Yao's team, you know. I'm not going to take it personal. I understand what Yao said, but I'm still ghetto. That's not going to change. I'm never going to change my culture. Yao has played with a lot of black players, but I don't think he's ever played with a black player that really represents his culture as much as I represent my culture." I agree. Why would you change after you lose $7 million dollars in pay from being suspended for 86 games?

May 7th, 2009: After a particularly testy playoff game with the Los Angeles Lakers in which he was ejected from a confrontation with Kobe, World Peace admitted that this wasn't the first time he'd ever been in a very competitive game: "I remember when I used to play back home in the neighborhood there were always games like that. I remember one time, one of my friends, he was playing basketball and they were winning the game. It was so competitive, they broke off a piece of leg from a table and they threw it and it went right through his heart and he died right on the court. So I'm accustomed to playing basketball real rough"

July 8th, 2009: After signing a long-term contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, World Peace once again changes his number, this time to number 37. Why? Because that's the number of weeks recently deceased pop-star Michael Jackson's album Thriller was at number 1 on the Billboard charts. Couldn't make this up if I tried.

November 23rd, 2009: As a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live, World Peace shows up wearing nothing but his boxers, saying "I was running late".

December 3rd, 2009: World Peace admits that during his time with the Chicago Bulls earlier in the decade, he used to drink Hennessey at halftime. Halftimes of games. Real, league games. No big deal.

December 5th, 2009: World Peace clarifies earlier statements that he'd love to fight Pistons center Ben Wallace again. He says that yes, he still does want to fight Wallace, but in a boxing ring rather than a street or the court. He thinks that it'd be a good boxing match. Of course.

March 7th, 2010: World Peace dyes his hair blonde, and had the word "defense" in Hebrew, Japanese and Hindi cut into purple letters. That night World Peace's primary defensive assignment, Vince Carter, went off for 25 points as the Lakers lost to Orlando. The haircut was gone soon after that.

June 17th, 2010: During his post-game interview with Doris Burke, World Peace, delirious with winning his first championship, thanks his psychiatrist and plugs his new single all at the same time. Man don't waste time, I know that.

September 8th, 2010: World Peace gets pulled over after driving an drag race car down a city street. He got pulled over not for speeding, but rather, that his registration was expired.

December 2nd, 2010: World Peace calls into a Houston sports talk radio station, claiming to be Luis Scola. He goes on to detail how Chuck Hayes came to practice that day ("He had no boxers on tonight, no Spandex — he play freeballing"), as well as saying he'd celebrate the win by "eating Spanish food later". Despite the fact that Scola is from Argentina.

February 2011: World Peace invites a select group of fans to come and play touch football with him on the beach via Twitter. They are somewhat surprised when Metta actually shows up. I'm just surprised he showed up wearing pants.

April 26th, 2011: Metta wins the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award given to the player, coach or trainer that shows outstanding dedication and service to the community. He was given this award largely based on his efforts towards raising money and awareness towards mental health issues in this country. Metta World Peace might be crazy - but at least now he's constructively crazy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Joe Mauer is getting paid $184 million dollars and I forgot he was in the league

Alex Avila was the starting catcher for the AL All-Stars last week. I don't know who Alex Avila is. The only thing that is interesting or thought-provoking about Alex Avila, or his entry into the All-Star game, is that he made me realize that Joe Mauer was not voted in. In fact, I kind of forgot that Joe Mauer hadn't played half the season. The best player at his position in all of baseball...and I didn't notice he was gone? Is it because he plays for the Twins in the AL Central, and neither of those entities penetrate my sphere of baseball interest? Maybe. But when Hanley Ramirez, the best shortstop in the league, missed games and played poorly, you bet I noticed. So why the difference with Mauer? I think this might be because Joe Mauer is one of the most overrated players in all of baseball.

Mauer's had an awful year - he has been hurt more than half the time, and when he's played, his performance has been hardly reminiscent of his 2009 MVP season. Yes, his play as of late has boosted his batting average to around .300, but he's still getting on base less and is slugging .130 points below his career average. For all you non stat-savvy MAMBINO readers out there, this basically means he's not getting on base, and even when he does hit, he's hitting like I do in Zogsports softball. Just a lot of singles and an odd double every once in a while. Great for me, not good for a professional baseball player.

Oh, and he has zero home runs this season.

In 2009, Joe Mauer hit 28 home runs. His batting average was .365. Ichiro Suzuki, who is probably considered the most accomplished active hitter, has done this one time as a Mariner. Statistically speaking, he had one of the greatest years for a catcher ever. His award shelf speaks for itself; he won a gold glove, a silver slugger and an MVP. Beyond the stats? He was the best player on a Twins squad that went to the playoffs. He picked a really great year to be phenomenal; he was an impending free agent in 12 months time.

According to the ever reliable Cot's baseball contracts, before the 2010 season Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer signed the largest deal EVER for a catcher, at 8 years and an almost unbelievable $184 million dollars. But the deal just isn't the biggest ever for a catcher; it's one of the biggest free agent contracts in the history of North American professional sports. Only two $200 million plus contracts that Alex Rodriguez has signed and a $189 million dollar deal for the Captain, Derek Jeter, were richer than Mauer's agreement with the Twins. Even more amazing is that he got this contract from a team in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Not the Dodgers, the Cubs, the Mets or Yanks. The Minnesota Twins, a team that was on the verge of contraction 10 short years ago.

Just a refresher for everyone here:

I know who Alex Rodriguez is. He's a guy who hit 189 home runs before he signed the first of his two $200 million plus deals. He had made 5 All-Star teams and established himself as one of the greatest sluggers of his generation ALREADY. He won three MVPs by the time he signed his second deal and by that time had people discussing that he would be the guy to break Barry Bonds' all time home run record. He doesn't always say the right things or keep himself out of the headlines, but I don't think anyone, even just 5 years into his career, debated the merits of who Alex Rodriguez was, or how great of a player he is. I know who Alex Rodriguez is.

I know who Derek Jeter is. He has 3,000 hits. He's the guy who has won five championships. When he signed his $189 million dollar megadeal, he had already won 4 of those titles. He has miraculously carved out a legacy for himself even in the mountain of Yankee lore, where there is precious little real estate for new faces. Even amongst men who are human pillars of baseball in Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra, Jeter stands not only in their company, but shoulder to shoulder. I know who Derek Jeter is.

I know who Joe Mauer is. But do you know who Joe Mauer is? In 6 1/2 seasons, he has hit 89 home runs, to go along with 479 RBI. He's made 4 All-Star teams, won 4 silver slugger awards, finished in the top 8 in MVP voting 4 times and won the 2009 AL MVP. He's probably most known for his incredible batting averages, which stands at .324 lifetime, good for 3rd best amongst active players. He's done all this while winning 4 gold gloves for his defense at catcher, which is known as the most demanding position in all of baseball. He doesn't play in New York, Boston or LA, and doesn't quite have the screen time that Jeter, A-Rod or Ortiz has. His face isn't as recognizable as those guys, though if he played on any of their teams, he probably would be.

But is Joe Mauer worth all that money? If his 2009 season, in which he was phenomenal, was simply his par for his course, then load up the truck and the money is his. But that is not his norm. He hit 28 home runs, 96 RBI and a 1.031 OPS. That's 15 more homers, 10 more RBIs and 100 points higher in OPS than his previous career high. He's been a pretty good player for his career, and extraordinary for a catcher, but even with all of his accomplishments, that 2009 season has to be looked at as the outlier.

If you look at the calendar, this deal looks even worse - he's 28 years old. A 28 year old CATCHER who's already had knee problems and has caught in parts of 8 seasons. Catchers age as well as uncovered white rice in the fridge...and if anyone reading this out there were Asian, you'd be laughing. But you're not. Sad.

The cons to not signing him were clear - he is the face of the franchise, literally. Good looking kid from Minneapolis who turned into an MVP and led his hometown Twins to the playoffs. He is the best catcher in the majors, when healthy, and is beloved by the community (He's like The Wire of Minnesota. And white people looooooovvvveee The Wire). He plays a position where less than a quarter of all starters hit over .270 and almost none are effective offensive players. His value over any generic replacement catcher is through the roof. But is that value enough to offset the fact that he has the 4th biggest contract in American professional sports history?

The unfortunate truth here is that Mauer will always be connected to the contract that he signed, and the team he signed it with. I don't really think people pay as much attention to how much A-Rod gets paid. For example, did you know A-Rod is getting $31 million dollars this year? Probably not, because money is never going to be an issue with the New York Yankees. But anytime there is a dip in performance from Joe, there will be concerns past his play. The Twins are not the Yankees or the Red Sox and thus Mauer NEEDS put up numbers somewhat similar to his 2009 season. Anything less makes his gaudy $23 million annual paycheck not just an overpayment to an underachieving player, but it also represents the opportunity cost of a small-market team allocating that much of its payroll to one player. Joe Mauer isn't overrated just because he gets paid that much - it's the other way around. He got that money because he was vastly overrated.

One more thing to keep in mind - He's never won a playoff game before. 0-9 in the playoffs in 3 appearances. I'm not forking over all that money for someone that might be breaking down, plays a brutal position and quite frankly, isn't a winner yet. Prove me wrong Joe.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dwight Howard could be the Yao Ming of China

Word on the world wide internets is that the lockout has already begun to take its toll on the NBA talent pool. Yes my friends - if the league were to actually play games next season, we might be bereft of the otherwordly skills of Sonny Weems, Darius Songaila...and THE MACHINE, Sasha Vujacic. These men, plus dozens more to come of such stature, will enter into deals that won't release them to join their NBA teams for a season that interrupts in-progress Turkish League play.

So for guys like James Jones, the Graham twins and anyone on the Bobcats' roster, I understand their thinking. Even in getting paid millions of dollars per season, these guys aren't going to have long NBA careers. Most everything they make now will have to support them and their families for the rest of their lives. They've got to play while their bodies can handle it. The choice should be easy - take one year of your life, live in Turkey, Israel, China or Russia, make some change and come back when the lockout ends.

On the other hand, I'm absolutely mystified with Deron Wiliams, Dwight Howard or anyone else of that stature (even someone on the level of say, a Josh Smith or Danny Granger) talking about going overseas to play. These guys are on 8 figure contracts with their respective teams. They are in a different stratosphere of decision-making from Darius Songaila. It's like Darius is deciding to enter into the Indy 500 with a Toyota 4Runner. A fine car, but if he were to crash that thing, it's replaceable. The risk is there, of course, but it's relatively low. Dwight and Deron are driving Bentleys. Kobe and Wade are driving Bentleys made out of platinum and ivory with Jesus' robes as upholstery. You just don't enter any of those cars into the Indy 500. It's just not worth the risk (and with that ladies and gentlemen, the first and last Indycar reference on MAMBINO).

At this point, playing basketball overseas during the lockout would really only be acceptable any All-Star or elite player if they had some sort of Jordan-esque competitive hunger that could only be satiated by organized athletics(which I don't buy) or they are idiots that live paycheck to paycheck, and earning $5 mil this year is a must (and I wouldn't doubt that the latter has to be true for a lot of these boneheads. They have platinum and ivory Bentleys! With Jesus seats! You heard it here first).

I don't buy the argument that any of their desire to play abroad stems from a need to stay "fresh" for when the season starts - that's what training is for. I know that there's nothing to really replicate "game shape" (hence, the term), but that's why team captains (like Kobe, KG, Kidd, etc) should be organizing team workouts. Show me you're truly team-first guys and put up some of their own money to host these type of team activities while the lockout is imposed.

As an alternative, I see something like Kobe's barnstorming tour in China as a much more probable. They'd basically be absolute zero-defense mini-All-Star games (lower intensity and probability for getting hurt) with an excellent financial upside. They would inadvertently be marketing the league, but perhaps more importantly (for them), they'd be building their own personal brands within the largest emerging market in the world. So this is where Dwight's statement today makes my whole stance on playing in a foreign professional league two-sided.

I don't think there is one NBA player that could stand to benefit more from Chinese exposure than Dwight Howard. LeBron and Kobe already have worldwide brands. They are worldwide brands. At this point, their going overseas and playing in the Chinese Basketball Association wouldn't stand to create as much as a net gain as this smiling, hulking caricature of a human (and I mean that respectfully). Dwight is not a champion, an MVP or an icon yet. But his Atlas-like physical features and floor-rattling game are both more distinct than any player since das Diesel. They translate beyond any language barrier and transcend the issues of race and politics. He would be risking hundreds of millions in an NBA contract if he got injured, but the exposure he would gain is priceless. He certainly wouldn't be bigger than Yao, but he could be bigger than Kobe, LeBron, Wade, their 6 titles and 3 MVPs. Think about it, big man.

I still don't think he risks it, but just for argument's sake, if Dwight played in China, I think he could drop 40/28/7 nightly, with 15 blocks per game. On 80% shooting. In 20 minutes. I wish that was an exaggeration, but I think those numbers might even be on the low end.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An All-Star Game rant, featuring Tim Hudson and Freddy Sanchez

It is July. Baseball is the focus of my sporting world. I have no choice. The NBA is locked out. Instead of free agency, summer league and the trade market to combine with my love of baseball, I have to cope with tennis, golf and...women's soccer. I am having panic attacks.

Let's put aside the fact that I'm a complete misogynist. We'll tuck that one in our back pocket for now. Now I'll say that the MLB All-Star break this year has been even more miserable than in years past. This small, three-day reprieve from professional athletics is the only time of the year that I have no choice but to focus on the other parts of my life. Needless to say, it is unpleasant having to do such a thing. I am in Hell. This may be the reason why this year especially, I am incensed with the MLB All-Star game.

Despite claims to the contrary by fantasy baseball guru Mark Schruender (keeper and founder of the fantastic Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove website - tell your friends!), the MLB All-Star game isn't the best of the professional all-star games. In fact, I think it may be the worst. And it's not even close.

All-Stars? More like bore-aphyl.

Let's begin with the premise of the game itself; "All-Star", the gravitational center in which these three days orbit. In a league full of guys that can play, an All-Star is supposed to be someone who is putting up fantastic individual numbers and also elevating his teammates with his superiority of play and transcendent skill. Year after year, baseball continually invalidates the definition of "All-Star" with its inane rules and lack of player discipline.

The NBA All-Star game roster isn't perfect. There are always snubs; guys should make the team and they don't. But I've never heard an All-Star line-up announced in February and had the same reaction that I did when I heard Kevin Correia was an All-Star. For all you NBA heads out there, Kevin Correia making the All-Star team is like Erick Dampier being an NBA All-Star. And I'm not talking about Erick Dampier in 2004. I'm talking about Erick Dampier in 2005. Still a nice year, but certainly not good enough to be an All-Star. I am not inspired. I am not awed by the stars that are exhibiting their somewhat mediocre skills for all of us to wonder what we're seeing.

I've distilled the biggest contributing factors to two root causes. One I already discussed a few days ago. Simply put, guys don't show up. In their apathy and absence, the players are telling me that this "honor" is more of a burden than anything else. How am I to think that being an All-Star is anything worth treasuring if it gets out that Aramis Ramirez would rather take the weekend off than suffer the inconvenience of being touted as one of the league's best?

But even more detrimental to baseball's All-Star game is this asinine "every team represented in the All-Star game" rule.

I just spent 10 minutes googling this, and I still couldn't find the reason why every single team in the league has to represented in the All-Star game. Out of the 4 North American sports, it's the only one where a rule like this is in place.

I know that it's an exhibition. As I've noted, in mid-July, baseball is the only game in town. The summer becomes black abyss in an otherwise crowded professional athletic calendar. All eyes are going to be on baseball, whether they care or not. Unlike a lot of other All-Star games when people in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Baltimore can concentrate on something else besides their underachieving (or perhaps in this case, their properly achieving) teams, you know that you've got a captive audience. You want everyone to care, so you take an All-Star from every team. It makes sense.

So then call it the Midsummer-Exhibition game. Or the Midsummer Break game. Or the Every-Star game. Just not "All-Star". Don't call it a game between baseball's best players. If every team is represented, that is not happening. There's never going to be a season where every team is over .500. There is no steroid that can make that mathematically possible. The odds of every team playing merely .500 ball are astronomically slim. Every single year, if every team is required to have one of their players named an All-Star, you will inevitably get players from awful teams. Not just the bad teams. Oh, they'll have an All-Star representative too. I'm talking about the AWFUL teams. The ones with 20 more losses and then wins in July ALREADY. Teams whose guys walk through supermarkets in their own towns and walk unmolested and unnoticed looking for Grey Poupon and delicious trisket crackers.

Aaron Crow (from the 37-55 Kansas City Royals) made the initial cut of the AL squad. You know who else made it? Tyler Clippard, from your 46-46 Washington Nationals. I mean, he's not Starlin Castro of the 36-58 Chicago Cubs and definitely not Gaby Sanchez of YOUR...Florida Marlins. So...there's that.

Who's Aaron Crow? Or Tyler Clippard? Who the HELL is Gaby Sanchez, and why does he have a girl's name? These are all guys that were named to the All-Star team because they HAD to have a representative. They're all having nice years, but I'm not certain they're playing on an All-Star level and doubly certain their respective teams are not playing on an All-Star level either. I don't know a lot about being a professional athlete, but I can guess that it's a hell of a lot easier pitching in Kansas City against the Twins than it is pitching for the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium, Tropicana Field and Rogers Centre every other week.

Not enough evidence yet? Let's go with this example. You know who Tim Hudson is? He's won 173 games over 13 seasons, good for 3rd most wins and 3rd best winning percentage, both amongst active pitchers. He's got the 9th best ERA of all the pitchers throwing today. He's finished in the top 6 in Cy Young voting 4 times. I don't think is an unfair statement - he's one of the best pitchers of his generation. He is a 3-time All-Star.

You know who else is a 3-time All-Star? Freddy Sanchez. Freddy Sanchez is best known for being the starting second baseman on the 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants, and also for having this big fat mole on his face that no media person can talk about. But I'll talk about it. It's huge and gross and on the lower right part of his face. It's gross bro. You just signed a $10 million dollar deal last year. Get that thing fixed.

Freddy made those 3 All-Star appearances when he was on the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that lost 94, 96 and 99 games, respectively. He was the initial lone Pirates All-Star all three of those years, though teammate Zach Duke was selected in 2009 as an injury replacement. Only one of those seasons did Sanchez have an OPS over league-average, where he finished 19th in MVP voting. He has never won a Silver Slugger or a Gold Glove. Other than his part on the San Francisco Giants 2010 title team (in which he batted .270 in 15 games with a .626 OPS - for all you non-stat-heads out there...that sucks), Sanchez will go down as a footnote in history. Yet, he has as many All-Star appearances as Tim Hudson.

This is just one especially egregious offense (I might be over-exaggerating, but I really...really am disgusted with the Pittsburgh Pirates) in a long line of them. The definition of being an All-Star has been cheapened by a rule in the name of fairness. Don't tell me that this game is the best of the best. They aren't all stars in the field. This is the best of every team, not the best of the best teams.

Once the players hit the field though, it's all business, right? Those guys are playing their hearts out! Roy Halladay is throwing gas, Prince is swinging for the fences, the whole deal, right?

I am a fervent defender of the NBA. If you have an unjustified ill word against the Association, I will cut you. But even I can't defend their All-Star game. It's pretty disgraceful. No one plays defense, puts plays together or even plays hard. There's just not a lot of "playing" of anything, to be honest.

That is, until the 4th quarter.

Please watch the last quarter of any NBA All-Star game. The alley-oops stop, the behind the back passes cease and the ironic "I'm a center, but I'm going to throw up a three-pointer or bring the ball down the court, smiling like a jackass while I do it" tricks all stop. It turns into a real game. It's only an exhibition - these guys aren't supposed to be putting their body parts in danger, but they can't help it anymore. Kobe puts on his defensive shoes, Chris Paul starts calling out real plays and Kevin Garnett throws on that scowl of his (obviously I'm not serious about that last part - KG never takes off that scowl of his. Not even in the 1st quarter).

During the MLB All-Star game last week, AL Manager Ron Washington took out second baseman Robinson Cano and inserted Howie Kendrick. Howie's a nice player. I have him on one of my fantasy teams. He smiles in all of his profile photos. But there's no way that you can say they are "really competing" in the MLB All-Star game when the newly crowned HOME RUN DERBY CHAMP is getting taken out of the game. You're not trying to win a game when you remove Prince Fielder from a game after he belts a three-run bomb. I understand that the managers are trying to get all the guys in and showcase off the talent that they selected. My dad did this when I played softball in 2nd grade. Everyone got in. I don't think anyone would tell Don that he was playing to win.

The Bottom Line (Because Stone Cold Said So):

On this scorecard, there's two parts: are the players here really what you would consider "All-Stars" and how closely does the game represent an actual competitive contest?

In the NBA All-Star game, the players show up. And sometimes, but not all the time, they play to win. It's an honor to be called an All-Star and the exclusivity of the accomplishment and the attendance of the players shows that.

In the NHL All-Star game, there's no requirement that every team has to be represented. If I ever watched that game, I'd have more reflections on it. But I don't. Let's hope there's no NBA lockout next year that makes me watch this game that I've only heard happens.

In the NFL Pro Bowl, which is played at the end of the season, the best players are selected, regardless of which teams are represented. In fact, replacement players aren't officially called "Pro Bowlers". They're just replacements. Guys don't hit hard, there's no blitzing and since this is football, of course guys aren't playing full tilt.

In the MLB game? The best players aren't always taken, a lot of mediocre players are named "All-Stars", guys don't seem to care about the "honor" and the managers sometimes play to win.

Which one seems the best here? Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove, I await your rebuttal.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In other news, Eduardo Nunez and Yuniesky Betancourt were named All-Stars today

Because that's what this is coming down to. Perusing the internet on Saturday, I saw this headline - "7 players named as injury replacements...including Kevin Correia".

(Also, I'm sorry to break up all the Women's World Cup talk on MAMBINO. Hope no one's feelings are hurt. Don't worry everyone - BockerKnocker's been dealt with)

Look, I'm not just a guy with a calicified heart that doesn't feel feelings. To clarify, I definitely AM that guy, for sure, 100%, but I'm also a guy that can appreciate a nice, heartfelt story. I'm glad that Ryan Vogelsong (2.17 ERA, 6-1 for the Giants) is on the All-Star team after almost being out of baseball last year. Jose Bautista is throwing all of that "fluke" talk in our faces, knocked out 31 homers and tallied the most votes in All-Star game history.

Kevin Correia has a 4.01 ERA, an 11-7 record and gave up 5 runs in 3 innings in his last start. Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has more strikeouts (72) than Correia (59) in a third of his innings. I've seen Kevin Correia pitch this year. He is terrible. I eat pieces of shit like Kevin Correia for breakfast.

Kevin here was the last of the latest round of MLB All-Star game injury replacements. The game this year features 16 replacement players, and a record 84 total All-Stars, surpassing the previous year's record of 82 total All-Stars. Not only that, but so far there have been injury replacements for the injury replacements. If this sounds stupid, it's because it is.

Please wrap your mind around that. There are 84 total All-Stars. 750 players are on active rosters. You're telling me 11% of those guys are the best in the league? How exclusive of a club is that? Less guys get World Series rings, Stanley Cup rings and NBA Championship rings combined. In comparison, 31 guys made the NBA All-Star team last year, with one injury replacement (for Yao of course, may he rest in peace). That amounts for 6% of the league. That's a pretty hard little group to crack there. If you doubled that number, you really aren't getting the elite guys anymore, are you?

Getting back to the replacement talk, I heard Bobby Valentine riffing on this during Sunday Night Baseball, and I think it bears repeating. I understand that some players get elected to the team, get hurt and then can't compete. Shane Victorino for example, went on the DL the very same day he was selected for the NL squad, so he is not in Arizona. Alex Rodriguez had surgery on his knee on Sunday, so he didn't start, as voted by the fans. These are all legitimate claims.

What I'm not clear on is why the players are able to elect to NOT play in the games and the MLB allows it, all in the face of MLB's publicity explosion in the form of All-Star voting. For the last two months, no baseball game was safe from All-Star logos flying at my face (there goes your social life) and everyone from Tommy Lasorda to Joe Buck telling me to support my team and vote for them to start in the All-Star game (I always think it's strange how hard they push All-Star voting in the third week of April when guys have really only had 15 games under their belts. If I voted based on that, Mark Texeira would never be an All-Star. Oh, ba-zing! Burned him good!). However, after this publicity avalanche, the guys that they pushed so hard for me to vote for (in fact, they allow you to vote 100 times per e-mail address), they give the guy a free pass if he's facing "physical and emotional exhaustion". In fact, they give free passes to guys that were well enough to play 9 innings on Sunday, but aren't well enough to get an AB or even show up in Arizona.

Look, I understand part of it. These guys are million dollar investments. In Mariano's case, he's a $45 million dollar investment just on his contract, let alone whatever value your franchise loses if he gets hurt. The All-Star game is a exhibition, and despite what anyone has said, doesn't actually count for anything (the winning league of the game gets home-field advantage in that year's World Series, but in baseball, home field advantage doesn't really mean much; in the 8 years that this rule has been instituted, there hasn't been a deciding game 7, only 5 teams with home field advantage have won, and 7 teams have finished the series on the road).

But if the league is going to push so hard and telling the fans that their votes matter, and that the game itself matters, why are they letting so many guys off the hook? Don't tell me how important my vote and the game is it's not important enough for 1/3 of the guys selected for the teams are not required to play, many for reasons that wouldn't keep them out of a regular season game in June.

Also, baseball players are little girls. Toughen up gentlemen. This isn't ballet.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Patriotic Overdrive: US Women's Soccer

These days, events are deemed newsworthy by their frequency on a Facebook news feed. After defining the word "comeback," the US women's soccer team certainly found their way into our stream of consciousness. But from the way they played, it seems as if it was long overdue.

This squad battled back not just from a deficit. They scratched and clawed through the concept of soccer itself. There are many reasons why soccer is absolutely breathtaking, but certain aspects of the sport hinder its progress within this country.

1. The flopping: Brazilian player Erika took it to a new level (at least for the ignorant soccer fan that I am) by voluntarily falling to the ground and staying there long enough that she "required" a stretcher to leave the field. We saw this stalling tactic last year when Ghana did this to the men's team, but at least the Ghana dude played the role all the way through. Once off the field, Erika miraculously got up from the stretcher as if Jerry Falwell had pronounced that she could walk again. She then ran back onto the field.

She received a yellow card, but that meant nothing. If Brazil had advanced, the card would have been wiped out (semifinal reset). It was a strategic move, the type of thing that I assume happens often. But in what other American sport could this happen without a proper penalty? This goes to the second problem.

2. The lack of a stoppage of time: I love that there are no commercials from 0-45+ and from 45-90+. Commercials destroy our souls, save for the few artistic ones. But if Erika wants to fake an injury like the coward she is, then STOP THE FREAKING CLOCK! This preposterous behavior is rewarded and it drives me nuts. I would give up the beautiful aspect of uninterrupted futbol, and thus willingly endure lectures about how Rogaine foam grows hair back in 85% of men who try it, if it meant that this crap would stop.

3. The referees: The obvious problem that every casual fan complains about. Every other big time sport in America has a smaller area of play than soccer. And yet, they all have more referees. Sure, the line people (don't know what they're actually called) perform a service to soccer, but they're mostly useless when it comes to the most important situations: the contact plays in the middle of the field that they cannot see. Don't want instant replay? Fine, then add one more stupid referee. Stuff seems so simple.

But with all that, these girls won a place in my heart. Hope Solo has swag for days! I thoroughly enjoy her post-huge save body language. Abby Wambach is ALL HEART. She has so much heart that she might have enough to spare for LeBron.

Ok, it probably helps that I would allow a handful of these players to juggle my soccer balls any day of the week and twice on Sunday. But whatever works, right? I never thought I'd feel this way about a women's sport. Although I probably need to end this post before Blakeshow terminates my Mambino contract for 2 consecutive non-NBA posts (he knows that guaranteed contracts don't usually work, so I'm employed at-will).

Bring on France!

Friday, July 8, 2011


Everybody knows that I love the NBA. And while I thoroughly enjoy me some hoop game, there isn't a single basketball player I love more than Derek Jeter. He is my Kobe (cheat on Minka all you want bro, I'll forgive you for the obvious lapse in judgment). That aside, I could go on and basically say everything that will be repeated in his HBO special or in the imminent ESPN montage featuring someone like Tim Kurkjian, but you guys aren't reading MAMBINO for that (you're reading because KOBEsh and I are your friends and you feel bad for us). But maybe...just don't know this fact.

Since 1900, there has been one player in MLB history who has recorded 10 years of 190+ hits, 10+ HRs, and 10+ SBs.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Albert Pujols breaks record, bones and principles of modern medicine

2 weeks ago, Albert Pujols suffered a small fracture in his wrist. The doctors expected him to miss at least 6 weeks and hoping he would resume baseball activities in 4 weeks. Instead, Albert turned the doctor's prognosis into a Odalis Perez fastball - and absolutely annihilated it.

I've documented here on this blog that Pujols isn't just the greatest player in the league; he's one of the greatest players of all time. He might live to be the greatest player ev-ER. There is very rarely anything he does that amazes me anymore. But this newest "achievement" is just silly. He recovered from a fracture in his wrist in a third of the time that the doctors prescribed? Did his body spit on the aggregate accrued knowledge of no doubt half a dozen team doctors? Did he just say "f it" and inject super glue straight into his arm without any care of the consequences? Is Pujols secretly Wolverine in the offseason? What is going on?

I'd like to amend my post from January. Albert Pujols isn't just one of the greatest athletes we've ever seen. The guy is one of the finest human specimens on the planet. The guy is built like 1985 Hulk Hogan with the reflexes of 1988 Michael Jordan and the toughness of the entire 1984 Chicago Bears team (and the ass of 1991 Cindy Crawford, my God....I meant....Christian wrote that). And now we've figured out that he can't be kept down by any mortal injuries? Good lord. $300 million might not be enough for a guy that could play until he's 55.

If something ever goes wrong - I'm talking worldwide disease, nuclear war, alien invasion, the apes take over, whatever - and we need to just create sturdy, physically gifted human beings, call in Pujols and one or both of the Williams sisters. I'm still only 45% sure we'd survive - I've seen the trailer for the Planet of the Apes movie. We'd be pretty screwed if the apes took over. Even with a Pujols/Williams monstro-baby that could dead lift 125 pounds upon birth.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Total Mindblow: The Los Angeles Dodgers in the cellar

Let's just set aside all the extra-curricular activities surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers. Let's just wrap that up, and put it in the other room. Yes, I know that will take a really long time, but let's just do that. Let's try to focus on baseball, the reason why anyone cares about the Dodgers in the first place.

Let's look at their on-field product right now. They are 37-49, good for 14th in a 16 team league. Actually, they're 27th out of 30 teams in the majors. They are last in their division, two games behind the San Diego Padres.

Now let's presume that the Dodgers will continue this trend that they've started in 2011. They are one of the worst hitting teams in the National League and near the middle of the pack in pitching. Most importantly, I'm in the midst of watching the Dodgers strand all 9 of their base runners, while making Mike Pelfrey look like Randy Johnson AT Dodger Stadium. I see no reason why their winning percentage should change dramatically.

Since 1900 only two Brooklyn or Los Angeles Dodgers teams have ever finished in last place. Two teams in 111 seasons - the 1905 Brooklyn Superbas and the 1992 Los Angeles Dodgers. Yes, there have been the same number of World Wars in that time span as there have been last-place Dodger seasons. Even with the advent of 5 or 6 team divisions within the two leagues, the Dodgers have always played with enough pride and hustle to avoid being being at the bottom of the standings.

So beyond all the judges, legal briefs and court rulings, this could be one of the most historic seasons in the 100-plus years of Dodgers history. For all the wrong reasons. Just another amazing accomplishment under the stewardship of the McCourt family.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Derrick Rose knew it

I came across this article this past weekend, and I thought that it was pretty interesting.

I've already covered the historical significance of any man winning the NBA's Most Valuable Player award several months ago, which makes Rose's Derrick preseason September 28th swagger all the more impressive. Pretty much no one predicted the Bulls to be in championship contention before the season, let alone Rose winning an award reserved exclusively for current or future Hall of Famers (not one GM picked him to win the award, nor did any of the "experts" at ESPN - but if anyone at ESPN is actually reading this, please ignore the "" marks. Please hire me).

The bottom line is...I miss the NBA so much. No summer league, no trades, no free agency; just rooting for a baseball team that's 12 games under .500 and in bankruptcy. I'm not a big proponent of this overused abbreviation, but FML.