Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Dodgers or Angels?" - How the Angels are taking over Los Angeles

The Anaheim Angels just completed an 86-win season. Just two years ago, they were one of the best teams in the American League with a 97-65 record, which was only surpassed by their 2008 campaign, most noted for an AL and franchise-best 100 wins.

These four seasons capture Tony Reagins' entire tenure in Anaheim. He "resigned" from his position as General Manager after the Angels failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year, preceded by two seasons with an AL West title, but without either an American League pennant or World Series championship. According to Tony, he felt that his performance was not up to the standards of what the Angels, and owner Arturo Moreno, demanded.

Reagins' brief career atop the Angels front office was populated by moves typical for a major market franchise. He made some big gambles in trading for players like Dan Haren, Scott Kazmir, Mark Teixiera and Vernon Wells, signing Torii Hunter, Fernando Rodney and Bobby Abreu while letting franchise players like Francisco Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and John Lackey walk in free agency. Some of these plans worked out, some didn't, but regardless, Reagins didn't get Anaheim any closer to a championship.

And that's what Anaheim baseball is. They play for pennants and championships, not for pyrrhic victories like 100-win seasons or ERA titles. They win often, expect excellence and demand nothing less. Arturo Moreno is a man who extends his staff and fans all the luxuries money can buy, which ranges from the finest training facilities to cheap stadium beers to $81 million dollar contracts. In return, he holds everyone under him accountable against the standards that George Steinbrenner, Walter O'Malley and John Henry hold their people to; winning, and winning big. The Angels and Moreno have spent an unconscionable amount of money buying everything they could ever need to win a title, and in doing so, have created an ideal that usually takes decades to earn - the highest standards of winning in professional athletics, set forth by those great men I just named. By the grace of Moreno and dignity by which he runs his organization, the Angels have joined the upper echelon of elite Major League Baseball clubs. When you mention the great franchises of the league, you cannot exclude Anaheim from the discussion. They are amongst the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, Giants and Twins where the expectations are highest and the glory greatest. The Angels have become an organization that has trumped any sense of cross-town rivalry I might have been brought up with, and has morphed into a club that has earned my utmost respect. They have become the Los Angeles Dodgers.


I live in New York City. I meet scores of rightfully braggadocios Yankee fans and downtrodden defensive Mets fans every week. Much like the Rangers, Islanders or Devils of the NHL. I understand that there is a geographical reasoning as to where their baseball and hockey allegiances lie. With football season in full swing, I have come to understand the difference between the blue-collar Jets fans and the white-collar Giants fans. The point is that I have to ask. There is no assumed answer. "Jets/Giants? Rangers/Islanders/Devils? Yankees/Mets?". It's still amazing to me that a seemingly innocuous question like that can paint such a vivid snapshot of the life you've led.

In the rare occasion that the conversation gets going a bit, I'll get asked where my sports allegiances lie. It used to be that the conversation would start and end when I'd respond with "I grew up in Los Angeles".

"Oh, okay. Obviously Dodgers, Lakers...and you guys still don't have a football team still, right?".

(Though there are two Los Angeles NBA franchises, I truthfully have never ever met a truly dedicated, hardcore Clippers fan in my life. I am under the opinion that they do not exist, and even if they did, those morlocks are never allowed out of the sewers where they dwell during daylight hour)

There was only one Los Angeles baseball squad. There was no need to clarify my baseball allegiance after answering the query "Where are you from?". A small, slightly arrogant smile would creep up from the corners of my face. There was a small sense of satisfaction I'd get from not having to answer the question. My hometown spoke for itself and I took pride in the fact that my teams were so inexorably attached to my town as much as I were attached to them. I wanted my alliances identified to me with the least amount of words possible - as if the extra words I didn't have to say elevated me above the jokers that had to clarify further.

But something changed. Over the past couple years, I'd still get that same line of questions, "Oh, you're a sports fan? What do you follow? Oh yeah? Where are you from?", which would inevitably turned into the assumed, standard Los Angeleno answer. Or so I thought.

"Okay - so Dodgers or Angels?".

The first time I was asked this, I acted as if someone had asked me "what would you prefer to drink? This orange juice or a cup of urine-laced bleach?". I was absolutely befuddled. Recoiled with disgust and disbelief, these words came out of my sneered mouth "...Dodgers. Dodgers. I'm from LA". I couldn't grasp that such an outrageous question has been thrown at me. Angels or Dodgers? It felt like more of an accusatory barb than anything else. I grew up in the cradle of the San Fernando Valley, the hottest pit of suburbia the City of Angels could possibly muster from the underskirt of the gorgeous seaside and the Santa Monica mountains. I didn't grow up in Anaheim, or West Covina, or Irvine. I never had my brow shadowed by the depressing glare of the Orange Curtain. Why would anyone ask me that question? Of course I'm a Dodgers fan. I'm from Los Angeles.


Growing up, the California (and then Disney-owned Anaheim) Angels were the laughing stock of Southern California sports. Between their ALCS appearance in 1986 and their World Series title in 2002, the Angels made zero post-season appearances. In fact, they won over half their games only three times, with their high water mark of 91 wins coming in 1989. As the California Angels, the team barely had an identity. Playing in a rundown stadium in a still commercially under-developed Disneyland-centric Anaheim, the Angels seemed farther away than the mere 30 miles that separated them from Downtown Los Angeles. They barely made it into the periphery of media attention. They were a terrible team, with news coverage limited to the daily line score.

Have you ever seen the movie Angels in the Outfield? If not, you either didn't have a childhood or you're older than 35. So let me refresh you.

Roger, played by the now ubiquitous Joseph-Gordon Levitt, lives in a foster home, away from his absentee deadbeat father (played by a young and an incredibly sleazy looking Dermott Mulroney, who at the time was a cross between Sean Penn and a dead Sean Penn). On one of his dad's infrequent sojourns into town, Roger desperately asks him "Dad...when are we going to be a family again?". Roger's dad, in between lighting up a cigarette and firing up his motorcycle, looks at his son from behind his aviator sunglasses and sarcastically remarks "When the Angels win the pennant". From that point on, the movie focuses on Roger as he prays each and every day for angels to come down from heaven to help his living local sports tragedy to not only become more than just a punchline, but a championship contender.

Yes. The California Angels were so incredibly pitiful at the time, that a popular kids movie suggested that the only way for the Halos to EVER win a pennant was with help from GOD HIMSELF AND HIS ANGELS. In the time that the lengthy process of screenplay development, production, filming, editing, post-production, marketing and distribution occurred, the Angels still managed to remain terrible. The fact that this movie exists is all you need to know about how the Angels were perceived by a group of producers that were largely Los Angeles-based. I remember watching the movie as a 10 year-old and thinking "wow, those guys got it right. The Angels would need help from WINGED GUARDIANS MADE FROM THE HOLY HANDS OF GOD in order to compete!".

There was no choice growing up in Southern California. Even family friends born and bred in OC found themselves more connected to the Dodgers than a team that played major league games down the block from them. Even as the Angels made it to the ALCS 3 times between 1979 and 1986, the Dodgers also made 3 championship series, winning one World Series in the same time span. So even as the Angels brand was strongest, the grip that the Dodgers had over the SoCal sports scene could not be loosened, no matter what success was going on in Anaheim. Any baseball fan from the region over the age of 18 will tell you that while their heart bleeds for their disgraceful team, it still bleeds blue.

But any baseball fan has grown up with an e-mail address for the majority of their lives might not have that same connection.


Before the 2005 season, Arturo Moreno made his boldest move yet; changing the name of the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This of course was met with outrage from both sides - Dodgers fans for Moreno's temerity in claiming any type of affiliation with their city and Angels fans for not only fueling a 50 year-old little brother inferiority complex against their more famous sister-city to the north, but also for shuffling the name "Anaheim" to mere second-class status. Moreno's move, while not only reviled by both fans and rivals alike, was ridiculed across the country. Pundits railed on Moreno for seemingly abandoning the franchise's small-town roots and attempting to siphon brand-value from a source that was not theirs to claim. The city of Anaheim filed an injunction against Moreno, trying to reverse the name change on the grounds that it violated the terms of the organization's lease agreement at Angel Stadium. The Los Angeles Dodgers printed t-shirts in rebuttal with the phrase "The Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles". I of course am a proud owner of one of those t-shirts.

What was lost in the initial uproar was that Moreno's re-branding was a brilliant maneuver. Much like the Dodgers and Lakers had done for years in establishing a financial foothold in OC, the Angels were simply turning the tables on their brethren from the north. They had made their power move and it has paid off handsomely. Beginning with small changes (the "LAA" abbreviation in the box score), the Angels slowly positioned themselves as a major player by aligning their brand with the nation's second biggest market. Moreno, a former advertising executive, had stubbornly wedged in his team in the forefront of the once thought impervious Los Angeles professional sports scene. The war of perception had begun in earnest when the Angels won the 2002 World Series over the perennial scourge San Francisco Giants. But now billboards, television commercials and newspaper ads in the LA Times began to permeate the county.

Most importantly, all of this maneuvering was done in conjunction with Moreno being able to back-up the perception and presence as a major market franchise with substantial capital. From Moreno's purchase of the Angels in 2003, the team has regularly had one of the largest payrolls in the league, has pursued the top free agents every off-season and stayed competitive with their amateur free-agent signings.

In just a few short years, Moreno had taken the Angels from an afterthought in the Los Angeles sports sphere, to not only one of the biggest local main attractions, but also as a major force on the national sports stage. Where there was once a time that Southern California and the nation could quite easily ignore the Angels, no longer does such a situation exist. The Angels fight in direct competition for the hearts and minds of the Los Angeles baseball fan. And I think that they're winning.


As much as I would like to, I cannot throw the responsibility for the dilution of the Dodgers brand at the feet of Frank McCourt. The loosening of what was once a iron-clad Dodger grip on Southern California began long before Frank so masterfully destroyed nearly the last strings of respect and dignity the franchise had dangling onto it's already emaciated bones. Years of mismanagement and poor personnel decisions have left the Dodgers as a shell of the successful team they once were. In the previous 10 seasons, the Angels have made the playoffs 6 times, with 3 ALCS appearances and one all-important World Series title. They have won 21 playoff games in that time period, in addition to being a perennial playoff contender in the rare occasion that they do not make the postseason.

The Dodgers have made the playoffs 4 times in that same span, winning only 9 playoff games and exactly zero world championships. The team has gone through 4 different managers while the Angels have had the steady former Dodgers Mike Scioscia at the helm, who I consider the best manager in all of professional North American sports. Most of all, the Dodgers have gone through one of the worst public relations disasters that has ever been seen in the history of the great game.

More than perhaps the losing records and dissatisfying ends to championship-caliber regular seasons, Frank McCourt and his underlings have done nothing but alienate the Dodgers fan-base and take advantage of one of the most loyal and hungry consumer markets in the country. When journalists point to the disarray of the franchise, McCourt seems all to ready to point to winning a mere 2 games in 2 years in the ALCS as a marker for success. Those two games didn't get us any closer to a championship that has gone missing for 23 seasons now. Ticket prices (up until two days ago) had continuously been hiked up, while promises involving stadium renovations, roster changes and draft pick signings have been continuously and egregiously broken. Frank McCourt, as has been extensively covered by this blog and everyone else in the baseball world, has put his pursuit of winning and competition as a secondary goal, always subordinate own personal gains. The customer seems to be a component of profit to him, rather than the reason for it. The last 8 years have been about how the Dodgers belong to Frank McCourt, rather than the Dodgers belonging to the people Los Angeles.

Everything I have just described is everything that Arte Moreno is not. He has endeared himself to a fanbase that had lived for 40 years as the bridesmaid to the trophies and honor that had been rightly earned by the O'Malley family in Chavez Ravine. He has gained the trust of his community by building the reputation of the team and organization from the ground up. He has made good on the promises he has made and infused his people to conduct themselves with the most amount of respect and commitment to excellence as humanly possible. Winning is the second-most important thing to Arturo Moreno. The most important? Making sure his constituents are having the best experience possible, not only at the ballpark, but as fans of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. As much as I'm sure Moreno is a highly competitive man who came from a meager and humble background, nothing about him or his tenure as owner suggests to me that he feels that he is more important than the institution he owns. I don't feel like Arte owns the Angels. I feel he is as much a part of it as anyone else who has a number on their jersey or wears a suit to go to work at the ballpark. Arturo Moreno is the polar opposite of Frank McCourt. And everything great about his ownership of the Angels and the way he runs that institution has only been accentuated by a man 30 miles away who has run his business completely paradoxically.

This used to be everything the Dodgers brand was. This was how Walter O'Malley and his family treated their fans and their business. You never felt like it was theirs to own, but rather that they merely had stewardship of an entity bigger and more important than any profit they could make. Moreno took more than just the brand name from the Los Angeles Dodgers - he took their way of doing business. The Angels have out-Dodgered the Dodgers.


It's been a couple years since I took offense to being asked "Dodgers or Angels?". Despite all other signs to the contrary, my arrogance (in that arena) has dimmed considerably. A lot has changed with both teams - as much trouble as I thought the team was in on the eve of the 2009 NLCS, the Dodgers are in far worse shape than I ever could have plausibly imagined. The divorce trial and subsequent bankruptcy have dragged my beloved team to the darkest depths of disgrace. Meanwhile, the Angels keep on chugging along each season, with nary a front office issue or scandal emanating from ownership. They continue to treat their fans right year after year, and their yearly 3 million-plus in attendance proves it. The mess that Frank McCourt has created will keep the Dodgers in a state of disarray for years to come, regardless of how much longer his reign atop the organization lasts.

If I was a kid growing up today in Southern California and I had to follow one team, it's not longer an easy choice. Geography has never really been much of a question - a 30 mile car ride, regardless of traffic, isn't that much to deal with if you were to only going to a handful of games a year. MLB TV and the internet have made it possible to follow whatever team you like, however closely you want to follow them. Dodger Stadium, for all the nostalgia and happiness it brings me to be there on a warm summer's night, is objectively inferior in quality to the newly renovated Angel Stadium, not to mention somewhat safer.

So the question again is, if you were a kid growing up today in Southern California would you begin to follow the team with the greater heritage but in a pennant-less 23 year slump with an ownership situation in near-constant turmoil? Or would you choose the team whose competitive and victory-obsessed leadership has turned it so rapidly from one of the league's smaller market teams to one of it's most valued?

I deserve to be asked the question "Dodgers or Angels?". In a few years, maybe I won't be asked it anymore. But it won't be because of the reasons I have come to expect.

Monday, October 24, 2011

NBA Lockout latest

This blog's opinion of the lockout has been espoused many times before, so there's no need to post that drivel again. The main news from last week was that talks broke off rather surprisingly, with the owners sticking to a new demand of 50-50 BRI (the players are said to be in the 52/53 neighborhood) and refusing to negotiate about anything else until 50-50 is agreed to by the players.

What I've done below is compile the latest news and analysis from the most keyed-in NBA reporters, in chronological order after the talks broke down this past Thursday. All your facts about the gloom and doom in one place!

Howard Beck, New York Times: Beck isn't a go-to bro for your Lockout fix, but on Friday he reported that the two sides have come to agreement on several ancillary issues:

(1) A one-time amnesty clause that will allow NBA teams to waive one player (with pay) and not have his contract count against the salary cap. In related news, Eddy Curry already has 500 Shake Shack burgers on pre-order.
(2) A "stretch" exception, in which teams can waive any player, but amortize the salary cap hit. So if for some reason unbeknownst to mankind that Travis Outlaw, signed last year to an absurd 35 milly over 5, doesn't get waived under the amnesty clause, the Nets could still waive him, and instead of taking the $7 million cap hit every year for 4 years, they could take a hit of something like $4 million a year for 7 years.
(3) The mid-level exception will supposedly be $5 million, down from last year's $5.8 million. It should be noted that the owners aimed to set the MLE at less than $2.5 million.

Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports: Candid article about the involvement of Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) in Lockout negotiations. Allen has been among the hard-line owners that take the "I'm willing to lose a season" approach. Wojnarowski reports that the reason for this may be that Allen wants the best deal possible in order to prepare the Blazer franchise for a future sale. Makes sense: the better the CBA is for the owners, the profitability for each franchise increases, thereby raising the market value. Woj points out that Portland still hasn't even interviewed anybody for their vacant General Manager position. This is significant because if the Lockout were to end in an instant, however unlikely, the Blazers would have nobody to make decisions in what would obviously be a shortened Free Agency period. To me, "I'm willing to lose a season" looks more like "We're losing a season. Get that through your optimistic head, BockerKnocker."

Bill Simmons, Your typical fan kerfuffle. If you looked up "kerfuffle," it means I'm smarter than you. If you didn't look up "kerfuffle," I may still be smarter than you since you may have refused to do so based on the previous sentence.

Sam Amick, Amick reports that the players believe that NBA Commissioner David Stern has promised the League's TV partners that a full 82-game season will happen, as long as the regular season starts in December or earlier. This would be the reason behind the players' refusal to give in, even though they don't realize that without the NBA, most of them couldn't get real jobs. Unobvious thing to look forward to if Amick is correct: a backloaded schedule, in which the dramatic final weeks will have more showdowns than normal.

Ken Berger, CBS Sports: Berger tweeted that the next announcement to come from both sides will be the indefinite postponement of NBA games. That girly whimpering you're wondering about is coming to you through the computer. Virtual tears.

Chris Sheridan, Sheridan used to work for ESPN and was a Knicks insider, so naturally I devoted a couple of years of my lifetime to the dude. Anyway, here are the highlights of his comments:

(1) There isn't complete agreement on the MLE. While he agrees with Beck that the final number is $5 million per year, the owners want to cap the years of a mid-level contract at 3. Notable MLE contracts over the past couple of years are Metta World Peace with the Lakers and Trevor Ariza with the Rockets, both at 5 years.
(2) Restricted Free Agency: Under current rules, if a restricted free agent signs an offer sheet with a new team, the RFA's current team has 7 days to match. The players wanted to reduce this timetable to 3-4 days, and the owners have agreed.
(3) Trades: Any trade made last season was done so under the rule that one side could only receive a maximum of 125% of the salary it traded away. This rule is why certain players become "untradeable." For example, since Joe Johnson makes over $18 million a year, the Hawks can't trade him for what he's actually worth (probably less than $10 million). Atlanta would have to receive salary that closely mirrors what Johnson is making in the current year. The players have asked the 125% to change to 225%, whereas the owners have countered with 140-150%.
(4) Annual Raises:
Owners - maximum of 4.5% for players with Larry Bird rights (3 consecutive seasons without being waived or changing teams through Free Agency) and 3% for players without Bird rights.
Players - max of 9-10.5% and 7-8%, respectively.


So there you have it. May God save us all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Life and Times of Milton Bradley

I've committed nearly 1,000 words to describing the life and times of Metta World Peace, or the baller formerly known as Ronald Artest. The reason? He crazy. He is absolutely, 100% batshit crazy. His now 10 year NBA career has been peppered with half-naked appearances on late-night talk shows, job applications to Circuit City with NBA Commish David Stern as a reference and a small altercation in Auburn Hills, Michigan. But even at the zenith of Metta's insanity, he never, ever came within the same stratosphere of craziness of one Milton Bradley.

Now if you don't know who Milton Bradley, his name is just as real as Metta World Peace, no matter how dubious your belief may be. Mr. Bradley is a former Major League Baseball player, whose career as an outfielder and designated hitter have spanned across stadiums in Cleveland, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, Chicago and Seattle. To say his career has been star-crossed is an insult to the definition of a word usually reserved for men who have simply donned several uniforms or a spotty injury history. Bradley's time in the major leagues has been a series of incessant injuries, unbelievable outbursts, and quotes that I couldn't make up if Richard Pryor, Tina Fey and Larry David were my crew of writers. His escapades make Metta World Peace look like Keyon Dooling.

Milton, a former Dodger, only came back into my sphere of consciousness because of news of his arrest for spousal abuse and subsequent arrest within the last month. As I started reading about Bradley's latest brush with the law, I started to think back about his altercations over the years and knew that it was time for THE GREAT MAMBINO to present...the Life and Times of Milton Bradley.

April 15th, 1978: Milton's mother decides that it would be a good idea to name her son after her husband, Milton Bradley, Sr. This isn't an unfortunate case of a person being named Julia Roberts and then having the famous actress come to prominence during her adulthood. Milton Bradley, the board game creator, died in 1911. By 1978, when Milton was born, the Milton Bradley company was already one of the most successful toy makers in America, with hits like Chutes & Ladders, Concentration, Candyland and Twister. I am strongly of the belief that Mrs. Bradley sentencing her son to a life of teasing and ridicule created the base for instability and madness that led to this post.

2001: During his first full season with the Indians, Bradley becomes so inebriated at a restaurant that he is taken to a local hospital by emergency medical workers. I don't know what restaurant it was, but I'm really hoping it was a Denny's.

July 29th, 2003: Bradley, after arguing with umpire Bruce Froemming's third-strike call, was ejected from a game against the Oakland A's. In his argument with the umpire, Bradley contended that Froemming "didn't understand" the game and proceeded to throw his bat and helmet in Froemming's direction after he had been chucked. In his defense, Bradley said that "he already took the bat out of my hands; I was just giving it back to him". Still angry, Milton claimed that pitcher Mark Mulder wasn't called on more "than two balls in a row all night". Mark Mulder finished the season with a 15 wins and a 3.13 ERA, walking only 40 batters in 186 innings. Bruce Froemming, who Milton said "did not understand" the game of baseball, finished his 50-year career a few years later.

September 4th, 2003: After driving 52 mph in a 25 mph zone, Bradley drives away from the police officer after he had pulled him over. I mean, it was just so ridiculous that anyone would get pulled over for driving merely 2 times the speed limit. He was later sentenced to three days in jail for being an idiot.

April 3rd, 2004: In what seemed to be the last straw in a long line of offenses, Bradley was removed from an exhibition game by Indians manager Eric Wedge for not running out a routine pop-up. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers days later. He said being traded to his hometown Dodgers was the "best situation he could have possibly hoped for". His Dodgers career lasted less than a season and a half.

June 3rd, 2004: When some players disagree with an umpire's call, they will have a discussion voicing such qualms. Some men of slightly stronger temperament will perhaps voice such qualms with elevated tones or exaggerated facial expressions. Some men will even go so far as to toss their glove around in the dugout, or perhaps throw their cap down on the ground in front of the umpire's feet in protest. Mr. Bradley did all of those things, got ejected from the game and then came back on the field with a bag of balls and threw them all along the third base line. Better than a bat and his helmet.

September 28th, 2004: In response to him dropping a fly-ball on the previous play, a fan unjustly throws a water bottle at Bradley in right field. Bradley, despite his passiveness and ability to keep calm under all scenarios, somehow lost it and approached the fan shouting at the top of his lungs. After a heated "exchange" (actually, you can't have an exchange if only one person is talking), Bradley angrily throws the water bottle at the feet of the fan as several of his Dodger teammates and umpires pulled him away from the stands. He was suspended for the next 5 games, as the Dodgers clinched the NL West pennant on the second to last day of the season, despite the absence of one of their most productive hitters. Milton supposedly undergoes anger management therapy after the incident, which failed at pretty much every conceivable level.

Oddly enough, this wasn't even the worst fan-to-athlete exchange that year.

October 7th, 2004: Coming back to the Dodgers locker room after his suspension, Bradley suggests the press is guilty of being "unfair to him". This was not the first time that he made such a claim, nor would it be the last. This was also not the first time that his rant had much to do with the fact that he was a black man. It was however, the only time that he looked a black reporter in the eye and called him an "uncle tom".

December 13th, 2005: After a series of suspensions and a 2005 season where he only played in 75 games, Bradley is traded by the Dodgers to the Oakland Athletics along with Antonio Perez (who batted .102 for the rest of his major league career) for a young outfielder named Andre Ethier. Andre has gone on to 2 All-Star appearances, a silver-slugger award in 2009 and 854 games, all of which are with the Dodgers. Bradley has played in 508 games with 5 separate teams.

June 21st, 2007: After 3 separate DL stints for two separate injuries in 2 1/2 months of the 2007 season, Bradley was cut from the Oakland A's. In response to a question of "how he was feeling?" a few days before he was cut, Bradley responded with "I'm healthy and on the bench". I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

June 29th, 2007: Milton gets traded to the San Diego Padres from the A's. He nearly becomes a season-saver for the Pads, hitting .313 with 30 RBI in 42 games. Too bad he turned out to be a psychopath.

September 24th, 2007: In the throes of a pennant race with the Colorado Rockies, Milton gets into an altercation with umpire Mike Winters over a disputed call. Bradley, long known for his ability to summon George Brett for any snub ranging from an umpire's ruling to simple name calling, gets into a nearly physical altercation with Winters. Padres manager Bud Black, knowing the heights that Bradley's wrath could reach, tries to physically restrain him, wisely, from becoming the Incredible Hulk. With each moment, Bradley became more and more incensed, as Black struggled to contain the animal being born from Bradley's hilariously rising rage. As Black fought harder to restrain him, he and Bradley fell backwards, causing Milton to awkwardly land on his knee. Bradley ends up tearing his ACL and MCL, robbing San Diego of their most productive hitter at the time for the remainder of the season. The Padres would then go on to lose a tiebreaker game with the Colorado Rockies for the National League Wild Card playoff berth at the end of the one run.

December 10th, 2007: Despite a calamitous end of his 2007 campaign, the Texas Rangers sign Milton to a 1-year deal to play outfield and DH.

June 12th, 2008: In Kansas City after an 11-5 Texas victory, Bradley storms out of the Rangers' clubhouse and bounds up five flights to stairs to confront Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre. Bradley contended that Lefebvre was making unfair comments about him on-air, and in a tear-filled (seriously) tirade to his teammates said that he's "tired of people running him down". Milton later says that he just wanted to "talk to Lefebvre" about the unfair comments he was making, which approximately zero people believed.

January 9th, 2009: Bradley finishes his only year with the Texas Rangers with a .999 OPS, a .321 batting average and an All-Star berth. He parlays his year into a 3-year, $30 million dollar deal with the DH-less National League Cubs, despite the fact that he had averaged only 91 games a season up until that point and had played 2/3 of his 2008 games as a DH, not an outfielder.

December 19th, 2009: Bradley, in his first season in Chicago, suffers a 60+ point drop in his batting average and a .220 point drop in his OPS, despite playing nearly the same amount of games. He had become such a distraction to the Cubs that he was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Carlos Silva, who had a 6-18 record with a 6.18 ERA in his Mariners career, not to mention nearly $24 million dollars left on his contract.

March 10th, 2010: Milton claims that hate mail, some of which that was based on his poor performance and some with racist tones, ended up in his locker in Chicago, without postmark. He insinuates that someone in the organization had sent it to him, giving a thinly veiled impression that the organization was discriminating him based on his race. Meanwhile, African-American first baseman Derrek Lee and Dominican third baseman Aramis Ramirez both made comments in the press that they'd like to finish their careers with the Cubs.

March 25th, 2010: Less than a month into Spring Training for the Mariners, Bradley gets ejected from 2 exhibition games the first three weeks of meeting his new teammates. He goes on to proclaim that he is the "Kanye West" or "Ron Artest" of baseball, in that everything he does is taken negatively, and everyone is out to portray him as a bad guy, no matter what the circumstance. Yes, Milton. How dare the media portray you as a bad guy. Certainly the ONE THOUSAND WORDS before these could not indict you on such a charge.

May 9th, 2011: After two ejections in his previous six games and a .209 batting average over 101 games in 1 1/2 seasons, Bradley was cut by the Seattle Mariners, who gladly ate the remainder of his $30 million dollar deal to remove this cancer 2 team + league.

September 29th, 2011: Bradley was arrested under the suspicion of domestic abuse at his Los Angeles home. When I read this article, I thought that ol' Milton had gone off the rails again and maybe slapped around his wife, threw a water bottle at her or maybe even a bag of baseballs. It turns out he allegedly SWUNG A BASEBALL BAT AT HER. Unbelievably, this is entirely believable.

In a way, the comparison to Metta World Peace isn't fair. Though he's had his share of offenses, ranging from punishable in a court of law to simply quirky, World Peace has been a durable NBA player whose skills have many times outshined his questionable mental stability and limitless amount of personality. He is loveable in many ways, and has somehow clawed his way back to being a respected philanthropist and champion. Bradley has proven to be a brittle performer whose lack of mental fortitude have held back a career that could have been one of the best in the game. He is not a winner. Metta is. I only have room in my life for one African-American psychopath athlete. Thank God it's not Milton Bradley.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Carson Palmer to Raiders

Being passive-aggressive never usually works. Two years ago, in my uber-competitive fantasy football league, one dude decided to not check the internet for a couple weeks (crazy, right?), and bingo bango, it indirectly robbed me of about eight Franklins. So I dusted off my passive-aggressive fitted hat, put it on (backwards, slightly to the right) and revved up a campaign to kick his ass out of the league. This lasted about 15 months. It took another instance of the guy failing to field a complete roster for enough people to hop on my passive-aggressive train. So in the end, it worked, but everyone in the league was basically like, "wow, this kid is insane," whenever they thought of me.

Just this past year, Jorge Posada inverted his member by taking himself out of the Yankee batting order. The disgruntled Posada was incensed at being placed in the 9th position. He sat on the bench that night, looking glum and detached from the team, while his wife posted updates on her Twitter that claimed her husband was injured. Do that in Kansas City, the story will die out by the end of the night. Do that in the "I need to write anything newsworthy to save my job" media frenzy that is New York, and it lingers, which it did. Almost nobody blamed manager Joe Girardi. Posada looked like a third-grader in the eyes of most fans, which is remarkable considering he had the support of esteemed teammates such as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.

But Carson Palmer? If the NFL was a high school yearbook, Carson Palmer would take home the "Most P-A" superlative in a landslide. Faced with having to lead the inept Cincinnati Bengals under the direction of inept owner Mike Brown and inept head coach Marvin Lewis, with the possibility of playing with inept Wide Receiver Chad Ochocino, Palmer demanded a trade. When that didn't work, the guy RETIRED. Just stopped playing. He said he wouldn't come back unless he was traded.

Do you understand the gravity of such an act? It's like if you brought your basketball to the local court, had an argument with another players, and you, Mr. Drama Queen, took your ball home so the other guys couldn't play. Well guess what, maybe the kids wouldn't have been able to keep playing that day, but sooner or later, they'll find another basketball and play without you. In the Bengals' case, this looked like it was happening, and I couldn't have been more satisfied. The Bengals traded Ochocinco and drafted super stud A.J. Green to replace him. They drafted Andy Dalton to take snaps under center to replace Palmer. And very quietly, they have won 4 out of 6 games this season. Not bad.

But lo and behold, the Oakland Raiders entered the picture by losing their quarterback, Jason Campbell, to a likely season-ending injury. Desperate to end a nine year playoff drought, the Raiders traded an outright-first AND a conditional-first round pick to the Bengals for that ginger Carson Palmer. The passive-aggressive former star quarterback got his wish, a ticket out of Cincy. What a stroke of luck. When Jason Campbell receives a bottle of fine liquor this week, he'll know who to thank.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What We Want and What We Need: The NBA Lockout and Two Weeks of NBA Basketball Gone

I want to stay positive. I want to believe that my cynicism is just a side effect of my low income, advancing age and the progressing intensity of my already titanic hangovers. I want to know that the singular professional athletic organization that brings my otherwise joyless existence meaning and purpose will once again take over my life in a way that seems incomprehensible to the average man. I want to be able to write blog posts with ease and not have to keep open seven pages at the same time in order to compose my otherwise unsupported and borderline irresponsible, but strong opinions. I want the NBA season to commence. I want to believe that it will commence in a way that does not compromise the integrity of what I consider to be the most fascinating American sport, not just for the competition of the men who perform, but for the psychology that goes along with every game, every season and every career.

I kept twitter open last night. Not just to log-on and respectfully check up on the fervent 22 followers of @TheGreatMambino, but also to keep Ken Berger's updates constantly running on my computer. With the cataract of pessimism that clouds my vision, I was following that twitter feed with my heart, not my eyes. Despite the reports that the owners and players were merely close to solving a minor issue like the mid-level exception rather than a hard-line issue like Basketball-Related Income or the luxury tax, I still checked that newsfeed as if it were a report on a latest blood test (good news Ma, I'm clean! Just in case you were wondering).

At first I didn't know what kept me refreshing and clicking. I have known for months that this would happen. I have been bracing for this ever since the Lakers got swept and the Mavs kept the NBA safe for another year. Why would I need to see that final confirmation to know that the term "82 games" would mean nothing this year?

Maybe I had a faint hope that perhaps a miraculous resolution would fall from the sky, and one of the sides would balk at the thought of losing millions of dollars. Maybe both sides would come together and realize that hundreds of people that don't cut the checks or cash the checks for playing basketball will lose their jobs and houses, and have their lives completely turned upside down. Maybe they'd realize that these men and women that work concession stands, parking lots or sit up in their cubicles managing ticket sales on their excel spreadsheets will be out of work. While the players and owners are fighting over $300 million dollars going one way or the other, film editors, equipment managers and athletic trainers will have their lives changed because they can't pull in $50,000 this year.

Or maybe I was just waiting for a resolution, that final death rattle. I just needed to know that the miracle would not be pulled off. I needed that confirmation that the good will created by one of the finest seasons in NBA history would be sullied by a labor dispute. I needed to know that I was right all along, and that even my intense love for the NBA and sadness of it being gone was not big enough to trump my ego. But most importantly, I needed to give up all the hope I just talked about. I needed the Old Yeller treatment. NBA Commissioner David Stern gave it to me:

"We're very far apart on virtually all issues. ... We just have a gulf that separates us."

According to Chris Broussard, the two sides disagree on just about everything: the mid-level exception, players' Bird Rights, length of contracts, the Basketball-Related income split, how much the luxury tax would be and the length of this Collective Bargaining Agreement. Looking at that sentence right there - it seems to be just about all of the same problems there were 3 years ago when every person in the NBA knew that this lockout was coming. I'm sure a lot of people will criticize the league for not getting to sit down negotiations sooner, but the fact is that neither side was going to budge two years ago, just as they are not now. The issues are more crystallized, I suppose, but I don't know that any meetings or negotiations after the 2009 season would have fixed this broken model any more than than it has now.

I understand both sides of this argument, and they are both right and wrong in their own ways. Like any other facet of business in America, the players should understand that the country is in a recession, and that no matter how big the gross dollars are that the league pulls in year-to-year, that they are not above taking a pay cut similar to the millions of other people who have had to do so in this country. The players also have to understand that the long-term health of the league is at stake if they stubbornly refuse to take their fair share of responsibility in order to be a part of this association which has afforded them lifestyles completely beyond their reach if not for their playing of this game of arbitrary goals and movement. The players have to see that they are not the only people that contribute to the NBA's success. If money isn't taken out of their pockets, it's going to be taken from the hundreds of other people that contribute to the game. Despite the raw monetary discrepancy, a quarter of $4 million dollars is not the same as a quarter of $55,000 dollars. The players want this season, but don't think they need it. I'm not sure how much time it will take until they realize that the latter isn't entirely true.

The owners have to realize that the players, like any other workers in this country, are fighting for their rights afforded to them under a capitalist government. Pundits, fans and people around the country must realize that even if players are quibbling over millions while most of us scratch and claw to make thousands or hundreds, that no matter how outrageous the amount, the players have the right to protect an income that they were given and work for. Regardless of the sum, there is no person in this country that is going to willingly and happily give up 10% of his or her salary. The owners have a responsibility to respect the union of their workers, and own up to the financial missteps they've made. The owners want this season just like the players, but they don't need it.

Because like I've said, this is an owner's league. I believe that this lockout will only end when the players have had enough and realize that their rope is not longer than the guys who own the rope factory. But by the time they all realize it, it will be too late to save The Big Three's last season in Boston, the rise of the Thunder, the fall of the Magic and the Miami Heat, Season 2. For an unscripted sport where the inertia of a leather ball is the deciding factor in winning or losing, there seems to be more perfect plot points and threads going into the 2011-2012 season than could possibly be written by a team of screen writers. Some will remain, but most will never be resolved. Beyond the practical and much more important ramifications of the lockout, like people's lives being altered, we are losing the best theater that reality can muster. With everything I've heard and read, I am becoming more and more pessimistic by the day that a resolution will come in time to have anything resembling a competitive season of NBA basketball.

Even if the season were to start sometime in the winter, this is going to be a wet, ditto machine copy of what an NBA season should look like. Truncated training camps mean that teams with new coaches, offensive systems and defensive schemes are going to look terrible coming out of the gate. Check: Lakers, Timberwolves, Rockets, Warriors and Pistons. Shorter notice that the offseason is ending and lack of time to ease into the heavy strain that is 48 minutes of physical intensity is going to have severe effects on teams with older legs. Check: Celtics, Spurs and Mavericks. A rapid-fire offseason is going to leave many teams with holes to fill in navigating towards an NBA title after decisions and negotiations that should take weeks take hours. Check: Bulls, Thunder, Heat and Magic. The playoffs will resemble the 1999 Finals, where the top seeded Spurs played the eighth seeded Knicks, a championship that rightfully deserves an asterisk next to it. Parts of me wants whatever I can get in the form of whatever 2011-2012 season turns into, if anything at all, but perhaps we don't really need it. What I want is the NBA back, not a wet, ditto machine copy.

No matter how bleak the outlook in the coming weeks and months of the lockout, I have no doubt that there will be days where once again Ken Berger will be the master of my internet browser and I will submit to his every tweet. I will hang on to every Chris Broussard report and Chris Mannix blog post and hope that somehow I don't quite understand the issues at stake or the level the negotiations are at and that the agreement will be made somewhat surprisingly to me. Even so, this is not what we should be focusing on in October. This is not what I should be writing about in October. I am sad in some ways, devastated in most, but at this point, relieved to have it set it in stone.

This is not at all what I wanted. But right at this point, it's what I needed. Thanks, David, for taking us out back.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yankees Recap: We Don't Need (Too Much) Fixing

Last night, the Detroit Tigers sent YOUR New York Yankees packing, with a 3-2 win in the deciding Game 5 of the American League Division Series. But seriously, it is far too easy to panic. We had a good, nay, great team this year. And how many of you wouldn't sign up for a season in which the Red Sox fell on their face on the last day of the season?

There's a lot to look forward to next year. So I present to you, my hope for the 2012 Bronx Bombers:

Batting Order

1. Derek Jeter, SS
Is he the prototypical leadoff hitter? Is his range at shortstop declining faster than the time it will take you to stop reading this blog post? Will his hairline ever grow back? No, no, and I'm holding out hope that he discovers a cure. He may not be the perfect guy at this spot, but he will always be the perfect Yankee. Quite frankly, I'll let him play until he says he's ready to leave the game. Besides, he surprised everybody by hitting at a near .300 clip this year. We could do a lot worse.

2. Curtis Granderson, CF
What more can you say about the 2011 American League Mambino winner for MVP? Grandy Man Can led the majors in runs, was second in homers* to Joey Bats with 41, drove in a-buck-19 from the two-hole. An OPS of .916 was good enough, but after those full extension dives this week, I got WET. Love this guy.

*Both Curtis and Bautista would lose the homer battle to my bro KOBEsh. I'm still looking for that baseball.

3. Robinson Cano, 2B
Granderson's swing is so compact that he covers a lot of the plate. But Cano's is so...effortless. It is so fluid that people often mistake the guy for being lazy. He batted fifth for the vast majority of the year because Girardi had too much respect for Teixeira to switch them up. With Tex on board, I expect even better numbers from our franchise player.

4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Listen, we all have different types of friends, right? Your best friends are those that you can relentlessly mock, without having fear of hurting their feelings. This dynamic doesn't apply to all of your friends. With some people, you dance around certain topics because those friends aren't ready to be weird with you yet, or maybe ever. A Yankee fan's best friend on the team is probably Mariano Rivera. He's been so dominant for such a long period of time, that a blown save every once in a while gets thrown under the rug. When he gives up a run, he knows we still love him. But A-Rod's not that type of guy with us. We shouldn't make fun of him for hooking up with a dinosaur, and we shouldn't make fun of him for kissing himself in the mirror. We haven't established enough of a relationship with him where it can get all kinds of awkward and have it be okay. So we shouldn't boo him. It makes him sad. Maybe we wish he didn't strike out with the bases loaded, but if we make him feel bad for it, he's just gonna strike out again next time. You wanna boo the team after Detroit celebrates on our turf? Fine. But booing A-Rod will not motivate him to do better. (A contract year will, but that's another story.)

Keep in mind that he played through injuries all year. He persevered, playing through them whenever possible. I'll take a healthy Alex batting cleanup next year. I won't be super stoked, but I ain't booing the guy.

5. Mark Teixeira, 1B
Tex's biggest problem this year was the defensive shift that teams used when he had to bat from the left side. One thing I noticed from last night's game was how calm his at-bat was in the 7th inning, with the bases loaded and after Rodriguez struck out. See, you can't shift so hard with men on base (does it seem like there's a "that's what she said" in there somewhere?). Here's hoping that hitting two spots lower in the order will put more men on base for Mark next year.

6. Jesus Montero, DH
The kid showed that he can hit, and I instantly forgave him for being lazy in AAA this year. A lot of fans will implore General Manager Brian Cashman to find better starting pitching this winter, and I guess I can't blame them. But the Yankees had a pretty good staff this year, even though they had to piece it together off of the street. To get good starting pitching, we will probably have to give this guy up. I say NO. I'm excited for a full year of at-bats for the Jesus.

7. Russell Martin, C
Of course we would all like Russ to be better offensively, but we should come to grips that there are very few studs at this position. It's far more important to have a backstop who can handle A.J.'s hurt feelings the pitching staff, especially in the AL East. My hope is that Girardi gives Martin more days off next year, by sliding Jesus into the role at least once a week. This will also accomplish the objective of giving the older regulars "half-days" off, because the DH spot can rotate when Jesus wears the catcher's mitt.

8. Eduardo Nunez, RF
This is my did-he-just-say-that moment of the post. Here's the deal: I'm a BIG Nick Swisher guy. I love the energy. I love the Roll Call Salute. His tweets could be more entertaining, but we can work on that. Swish has a club option for 10.25 million next year. One can easily argue that most of the Yankees aren't worth their salary, and compared to those Yankees, Swisher is relatively cheap. The problem has more to do with finding Nunez at-bats next year. Although Nunez was the recipient of a Mambino cheap shot earlier this year, he showed great promise when A-Rod and Jeter went down. I'm a huge fan of homegrown talent, and while that may affect my objectivity, let's see what the kid can do. Swisher's power numbers should be replaced by Jesus anyway.

9. Brett Gardner, LF
I think Girardi's one big mistake this past series was pinch hitting Eric Chavez for Gardy in Game 2. Of COURSE Chavez struck out on 3 pitches. Gardner certainly has the least amount of pop in this lineup, but he's a decent hitter with a good batting eye. The sky's the limit if he can improve his performance against left-handed pitching.

Pitching Staff

1. CC Sabathia
It would be a wise business move to opt-out after Cliff Lee scored a megadeal last winter. Good thing the Steinbrenners are in the money-printing business. Many people wouldn't classify Carsten Charles as a top 5 starting pitcher, but he has been our ace for three years now. There is nobody, not even The Best Pitcher Alive Justin Verlander, who has been more of a workhorse. And while that may not bode well down the road, we can afford to give CC the world.

2. Ivan Nova
Well, we didn't lose because of SuperNova. The rookie showed enough cojones to pitch well all season. When he was demoted to the minors in favor of Phil Hughes, he didn't cry about it. He just got better. Even if there's an innings limit, Nova is without question the Yanks' 2nd best starter.

3. A.J. Burnett
For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part.

4. Phil Hughes
So maybe he's not the elite flame thrower we thought he'd be. But through all the turmoil and the injuries, there were a few decent outings this year. Give him another shot and see what happens. If it blows up in our faces, we can always send Big Fat Bartolo Colon to Dr. Galea again.

5. Dellin Betances
He's ready, but he's not ready, according to baseball people whom I assume have constant nightmares wherein Tommy John reincarnate appears. The fifth starter can be skipped at various points of the season, due to off days, rainouts, and the like. We tried to baby Joba and Hughes, and we don't really have much to show for it. LET'S GO FOR IT this time.

6. Bullpen
The best in the game. A lot of the credit has to go to Girardi. He massages the bullpen workload better than any manager in baseball, and the numbers speak for themselves (led the AL with a 3.21 bullpen ERA). Tweak nothing.

In more exciting news, the NBA lockout is nearing a critical stage this weekend. Cross your fingers!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kobe v. Lebron, Version Lockout

Today is a very important day for the NBA. If the fruits of yet another player-owner meeting do not yield progress, we are looking at a full season of hockey. And who wants that?

Because I couldn't think of a slick intro, I'll just tell you what this post's about. Our two great minds have come up with...nothing. ESPN did a mini roundtable comparing Kobe and LeBron, asking the questions you will see below. We have decided to copy this. We have no shame in doing so.

1. Who would lose more from a cancelled season?

KOBEsh: This question has to be broken down into two parts. They both have a tremendous amount to lose from a cancelled season, the most important of which is both men losing another chance to win an NBA title while in their "primes", LeBron being in the midst of his dominance and Kobe being on the tail end of his. Of course the window for LeBron will be open for many years to come, but for Kobe, this could be his last shot at winning as "the man". In this sense, Kobe has a bit more to lose not playing a game in the 2011-2012 season.

Kobe's legacy is already set. There's not a lot he could do in regards to his playing days (he only ALLEGEDLY did that, loyal MAMBINO readers, never actually convicted) that would really sully that at this point. LeBron on the other hand, will be 27 years by the end of the lockout. His two partners in silver medaling, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, will be 27 and an injury prone 29 years old, respectively. Not that they couldn't win 3 or 4 championships in a row, but, if you haven't heard yet, these gentlemen have won nothing. Every year that LeBron continues an NBA career without winning a title is a dozen times more costly than Kobe with his pimp hand full of rings. If their careers were to end today, Kobe would be top 10, while LeBron would be stuck trying to justify a ringless career.

This all being said, it's Kobe who has more to lose. It's a bigger news story in the present for LeBron to win a ring, but in 20 years, it's going to be much more important that Kobe won his sixth. He's trying to keep up with Michael's ring count. LeBron is trying to keep up with Alonzo Mourning's.

Bocker: Good grief, there was so much homer in that response that the baseball hasn't even landed yet. I'm still looking for it, bro.

There is no question that LeBron has more to lose from a cancelled season. And aside from the reasons which you happened to eloquently mention, I'm gonna scale it back and talk about practice. (YEAH, WE TALKIN BOUT PRACTICE).

Don't get me wrong, Kobe is a masterful assassin. He can beat you in so many ways. The Mamba's post-up game has no match. Shade left, and you'll get a right shoulder fadeaway. Shade right, left shoulder fadeaway. Play face defense, be treated to a up-and-under. Back off, swish in your eye. Kobe beats some of his opponents before tipoff through intimidation alone, which is probably the most Jordanesque any player will ever become.

LeBron, on the other hand, plays basketball like he's playing a video game. It's so easy to say "make him shoot the jumper," but in reality, most NBA players don't have the defensive IQ combined with enough athletic ability to stop LeBron from getting to the rim, even if you give him space. He wants to throw down in your mug on every single play. In the playoffs, it always takes a combined team effort from a group with a two-fold gameplan: have enough structure to trap LeBron into making "video-game mistakes," but have enough flexibility to gamble by making educated guesses on what LeBron will do with the ball. The Celtics and Mavericks have done this brilliantly.

My point? Well, has anyone ever considered that maybe LeBron just doesn't want to be the player we all want him to be? Everybody has an opinion on what he needs to do to get better: refine the game down low, shoot better from the perimeter, don't let off-the-court stuff impact your life, etc. But what if he's perfectly fine with playing video games for the rest of his life? Mama and Pop wanted me to play the piano like a good little yellow boy...doesn't mean I actually had to keep doing it.

So, getting back to practice (finally), LeBron doesn't need extra time in the gym. He can cross you over or crab dribble his way to the bucket in his sleep. In actuality, regular season games ARE the practice that LeBron needs, because the only thing he's missing is his mental toughness, something you don't work on when you scrimmage with your teammates. Kobe? The guy isn't playing checkers, he's been playing chess for years. Miss a season, big deal; he's still the effing Mamba. But Kobe's offensive game, combined with his age, actually requires him to spend time in the gym. Maintaining a truly complete offensive repertoire is not like riding a bicycle; it's more like studying for a standardized test. Success is correlated with consistent and relentless effort.

2. Who means more to his team next season?

B: LeBron, by a wide margin. You know when you play pickup, and before you pick teams, everybody knows who the two best players are? Sometimes, the talent is so uneven that the game will be decided if the two blue chippers somehow wind up together. That's LeBron and Wade in a nutshell.

Only, it hasn't worked out for those two. "Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" is similar to when the two pickup ballers give each other the look, and basically decide they want to practice throwing alley-oops, instead of getting the easy win. And if the other team gets wind of this in time, the game is usually a lot closer than it should be. The Heat steamrolled through the first couple rounds of the playoffs. Every pundit alive was glowing. Fast forward to Game 1 of the Finals, where the Heat blew out the Mavericks, and celebrated as if the Larry O'Brien trophy was awaiting them in the locker room. Guess what, Miami. Dallas found out you were trying to throw alley-oops.

If the Heat, and most specifically, LeBron, just clamped down, every NBA fan outside of The Heat Index would be in FEAR.

K: LeBron. The Heat were 2 games away from a championship in June and if LeBron plays up to even 80% of his potential (I'd mark his performance in June as about 60%), MAMBINO doesn't quite have the same quantity of bile-filled posts in its short history. Wade and Bosh played nearly as well as they could have played, and I think that this just proves that as the LeBron goes, the Heat go. In 2012, Kobe isn't going to have the same role he's had for the past 15 seasons; new coach Mike Brown has repeatedly brought up his time with the Spurs with Tim Duncan and David Robinson as a point of reference for an offense featuring Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. I'm not saying that Kobe is not integral to the Lakers' success, especially in regards to winning a title, but his role is definitely not the same as it was even in 2011. 

3. Who has a better shot at being 2012 Finals MVP?

K: LeBron. James was the subordinate player to Wade's alpha dog in the Finals against Dallas, and the Heat were outclassed in 6 games. Wade is not getting any better and unless Bosh commits to becoming a premiere post player, LeBron has to be the best player on the team for them to win a chip. If he's not the best player on the court, I don't see how the Heat win a title.

B: I think each team has an equal shot at getting to the finals. While the West is better than the East from top to bottom, the playoff teams from the respective conferences are a close match. So I don't foresee this question being answered by predicting which team has an easier road to the Finals.

LeBron certainly has to be the best player on the floor for the Heat to win a title, but that doesn't necessarily mean he has a better shot at being 2012 Finals MVP. Put it this way: if the Heat win it all, there will be a rallying cry for Wade to get the honors. But if the Lakers are the last ones standing, no decision-maker on Earth would choose to give it to anyone over Kobe.

4. Who should finish higher in NBA Rank?

K: LeBron. As much as it hurts me as a basketball fan and as a person who generally dislikes uneducated hypocrites who suffer from unsubstantiated egomania, I have to say that LeBron has surpassed Kobe as a basketball player on an NBA court (though perhaps not off of it). LeBron should be the best player in the league. Maybe an entire summer (and more than likely, two summers, a winter and spring) of criticism from everyone who cares about the NBA will force him to become a better player than the flawed baller he is now.

B: Neither. Each has an advantage over the other in multiple categories. The NBA doesn't masquerade as an individual sport, like baseball. That's just what college basketball freaks want you to think. It is a team game, where one's talents can be increased or decreased when they are juxtaposed with another's. There is no way to truly say who is the better basketball player without my head being blown to pieces. And that, my friends, is poetry.