The movement for LGBT equality has been on the forefront of American politics and society over the last several years with professional athletics finally joining the party as sports stars spanning the globe have trickled out of the closet.
John Amaechi, Gareth Thomas, Robbie Rogers and Brittney Griner have all publicly disclosed their sexuality in recent years, proving that yes, some of the best athletes on earth are indeed gay.
Last week NBA player Jason Collins disclosed he is gay, becoming the first active male athlete in one of the four major North American team sports to come out.
Supporting Collins and the right for players to be open and honest about their sexuality were fellow athletes Baron Davis, Kobe Bryant, Chris Kluwe, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Scott Fujita, Steve Nash, CC Sabathia and Jerry Stackhouse.
All of these men have one thing in common. They are all over 30 years old. Why is this important?
Traditionally, the Gay Rights movement leadership may be comprised of an over 30 crowd, but surveys indicate that the greatest support for equal marriage rights lies among younger Americans. With every new generation entering adulthood, the country becomes more accepting of gay rights.
I, for one, would think that today’s college players and younger professional athletes would be the folks leading the way for openly gay players in sports. It seems that I’m only half right, especially in men’s sports.
Academia frequently serves as a catalyst for social change and we’re seeing an increased number of college athletic programs publicly encourage players to come out. However there’s a significant drop off in that sentiment among the pro ranks.
It’s no coincidence that many veteran players, such as those previously mentioned, are freely expressing opinions on a controversial issue. Many of these guys are at the end of their professional careers or are so dominant in their sport that they won’t face any career-threatening or financial consequences.
But what about young players who aren’t yet established in their sport? Just a few months ago, an NFL prospect was asked about his sexuality at the Combine. What kind of message does that send to young players?
There is one player who has managed to break the mold. He’s not a veteran but he has faced years of taunting as a result of sticking up for his beliefs.
Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets is just the kind of young, talented, high-profile athlete needed to encourage other heterosexual athletes of his generation to help open the doors even wider for lesbian and gay teammates.
Raised by two moms, Waudda and Manasin, the 23-year-old Faried has been active in supporting the LGBT community for several years. An impressive rookie season earned Faried respect and a solid reputation heading into this season, his second in the NBA.
Veteran, heterosexual players (and obviously, the gay athletes who have come out over the years, such as Martina Navratilova) have paved the way for Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, and now, Jason Collins. But those guys are on the way out, leaving a huge void in the movement. Kenneth Faried is the man to fill that void for his generation. Hopefully by the time his career ends, Faried won’t need a successor because the movement itself will no longer be necessary.
The personality and intrinsically entertaining human being that is Ozzie Guillen tweeted an interesting photo Sunday. The Miami Marlins manager posted the pic (above) of he and his wife having dinner in Madrid with some friends. The caption reads, “dinner in madrid yes we having good time, stanton, ricky and petey. cenando en madrid que bueno.”
Ozzie’s three pals are Giancarlo Stanton, Ricky Nolasco and Bryan Petersen, who just happen to be players on the Marlins’ roster. How many times have you seen a coach or manager either vacationing with his or her players, or meeting up with them for dinner while abroad?
After I saw this tweet, the story below seemed less shocking.
One of the several issues plaguing the Marlins concerned pitcher Heath Bell, who was none to pleased with a lot of things in Miami. The Marlins unloaded Bell, shipping him off to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and seemingly with barely both feet out the door, the Miami Herald published these secrets from the inside:
“Unhappy with his diminished role, the bitter Bell was openly critical of pitching coach Randy St. Claire, the training staff, Marlins catchers, sportswriters, and even the Showtime production crew that filmed The Franchise. Bell said he was portrayed too negatively during the reality series.
“For the Marlins, the final straw might have come the final week of the season when Bell, in a live radio interview, said it was “hard to respect” manager Ozzie Guillen.
“The following day, Bell’s teammates, in a show of support for Guillen, turned on the manager’s weekly radio show inside the clubhouse, raised the volume, and made Bell listen to Guillen state that he no longer respected Bell “as a person.”
Upon reading this anecdote, I was immediately transported back to the 8th grade where stuff like this happened all of the time. Picking sides, bullying, humiliating your peers, etc.
I’m not saying Bell is a nice guy who got the shaft in this situation, but that sure seemed like a catty move for a group of adult men. Then again, pro athletes as a whole, aren’t necessarily considered the most mature population segment of adult society.
But this begs an important question. Should a manager or coach be that close to his or her players? Can you properly discipline your employees and garner respect while on or close to their “level?”
In Ozzie’s first season as manager, the Marlins finished dead last in the NL East with a 69-93 record and 19 games back of the division-winning Nationals.
In my few stints as a manager, I found the line between friend and boss incredibly difficult to draw since I really liked most of my employees and considered them friends. Depending on each individual, some listen to you and do what you ask as their boss because they respect you as a friend, while others do the opposite, undermining your authority because they consider you an equal.
Terry Francona did the impossible, breaking the curse and bringing multiple World Championships to Boston. Once his tenure as Red Sox skipper came to an end, various reports revealed that he had allegedly become so close with his players that he rarely disciplined the group when necessary and because of that, he “lost” the team.
Could Ozzie’s close-knit relationship with his players be one of the many reasons why the Marlins absolutely sucked last season? I don’t know the answer, but I think it is a topic worth exploring.
A few days before the brightest stars in baseball head to Kansas City, the All-Star Game has already seen several curve balls come its way.
From the surprising dominance of knuckle ball pitcher R.A. Dickey to the emergence of rookie Mike Trout and controversy surrounding fellow young buck Bryce Harper’s spot on the roster, baseball’s most famous heavy hitters seem to be an All-Star afterthought.
Rookie vs. Rookie
Well hot diggity dog, look who snuck his way onto the NL All-Star roster? Yes Harper-haters, the Nationals stand-out 19-year-old weaseled his way into a trip to Kansas City, thanks to Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton who will miss the game and undergo knee surgery. Bryce Harper has felt the heat on a national level since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old, and I’d say he’s met the challenge in his first season in the Majors.
In 63 games, the right fielder is batting .282 with 8 home runs, 25 RBI and .472 slugging.
Over in the AL, fellow rook Mike Trout blows Harper out of the water, statistically speaking. The 20-year-old is hitting .342 with 12 HR, 40 RBI and .564 SLG in 64 games, not to mention his excellent fielding skills. Oh ya, he also leads the AL with 26 stolen bases.
While Trout had long been considered a stud by baseball insiders, he was relatively unknown to those outside “the know.” Trout didn’t face nationwide pressure the way Harper has, or the expectations of carrying an entire big league ball club.
Anyone in their right mind agrees that Trout is an All-Star (despite not making it as a starter) but the debate rages on in regard to Harper.
Being selected to an All-Star team isn’t only about statistics. It’s about representing each team in the league. Sometimes it is strictly numbers based, other times it’s a popularity contest (decided by the fans), and once in a while the game is used to show respect for a player’s overall career rather than his accomplishments in that season.
What’s wrong with selecting Harper, whose numbers are absolutely respectable? More importantly, he has reenergized a first-place team and its fans while drawing millions of eyeballs from all over the country to the sport. With all of the BS tarnishing baseball over the last several years, the sport could use a guy like Harper, who thus far, has brought nothing but good PR, not to mention blessing the world with the great new catch phrase, “that’s a clown question bro.”
Hopefully the 2012 All-Star game will turn out to be an anecdote told in conversation several years from now: “I watched those two share a field at an All-Star game in their rookie season, before they became two of the best to ever play the game.”
You can’t go wrong having these two on the All-Star roster.
The Unexpected Rise of R.A. Dickey
Nobody saw this coming. Not even R.A. Dickey himself. The Mets knuckleballer has had one hell of a ride. The man has battled many demons in his life, from suffering sexual abuse to an injury expected to be career-ending to deep emotional depression. At age 37, Dickey finally hit his stride with a 12-1 record and 2.40 ERA earning him his first-ever All-Star spot.
Dickey’s career seems to have played in reverse, starting out as a highlight touted first-round draft pick before doctors discovered he had an elbow injury, condemning him as damaged goods. The more Dickey aged, the stronger he grew, learning, and now seemingly perfecting the art of the knuckleball pitch. In June, Dickey made history throwing back-to-back one-hitters.
Despite unquestionably earning a spot as an All-Star starter, the unique and rarely used pitch that got Dickey to this level may keep him out of the starting lineup in Kansas City.
Tony LaRussa, managing the NL team is concerned that his starting catcher, the young Buster Posey of the Giants might struggle to receive knucklers behind the plate. Since the fans voted Posey a starter, LaRussa might feel forced to relegate Dickey to a backup spot. Plus, the outcome of the MLB All Star game now actually means something to teams in World Series contention.
It would be an ironic shame if the talent that makes Dickey so spectacular forces him out of the starting lineup, but he is still an enigmatic figure with a story that fans love. Being a first-time All-Star at age 37 is a great enough accomplishment to keep Dickey happy and the fans in his corner.
Andrew Who? Fans, Meet Andrew McCutchen
News of the injured Giancarlo Stanton proves to be the gift that keeps on giving. First, Bryce Harper learned that he would replace Stanton on the NL All-Star roster. Then, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen got the call that he would take Stanton’s place in the Home Run Derby.
The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t get a lot of love from the media, understandably so considering the franchise has been one of the worst in baseball for many years. It’s mean, I know, but it’s the truth. On the bright side, the Pirates have a potential superstar on their hands as McCutchen, in his third year in the Majors, is having an outstanding season thus far.
In 81 games, McCutchen is hitting .362 with 18 HR (including two in Sunday’s win over the Giants) and 60 RBI. His .362 average leads all of baseball. Not too shabby for a 25-year-old playing in Pittsburgh.
In fact, McCutchen has the highest batting average by a Pirate at the All-Star break since World War II.
Win or lose, McCutchen’s Derby appearance should create some buzz for the emerging star by giving the country an opportunity to get to know the Pirates’ young standout.
The Kings went from trying to make happy history by winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 45-year existence to possibly ending up on the wrong side of history with a hockey collapse of epic proportion.
In a seven-game series, a 3-0 lead looks insurmountable regardless of the sport. A deficit of that magnitude has never been overcome in an NBA playoff series. The Boston Red Sox were the first to break the barrier in their legendary ALCS win against the New York Yankees en route to the World Series title in 2004.
Compared to baseball and hoops, Hockey teams are entitled to have hope when down 0-3, albeit just a tiny sliver. Three times in NHL playoff history has a team climbed out of the huge 3-0 hole to win the series.
As a No. 8 seed ripping through the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings have not only taken the hockey community by surprise, but it’s own home city of Los Angeles has been transformed from a collection of beach-going basketball and baseball fans to a population of people warmly embracing the cold ice of hockey along with the excitement and edge the fight for the Cup creates.
Winning 10 consecutive road games in this year’s playoffs (12 dating back to last season) en route to series victories over the 1, 2 and 3 seeds out West had the media and most fans crowning the Kings invincible heading into the Cup Finals against the also surprising New Jersey Devils.
Beating the Devils twice in Jersey only continued the clamor for the Kings, despite both games being decided in overtime and the Devils actually outplaying L.A. in Game 2. But Game 3 in L.A. was all Kings as the home team crushed the visiting Devils 4-0 making the sweep look pretty realistic.
The Kings had twice led three games to none in these playoffs and lost the fourth game at home, so it shouldn’t have shocked anybody that a desperate Devils team staved elimination with a Game 4 victory, sweeping the brooms aside. But the Kings are better on the road than on home ice making a Game 5 win all the more difficult for the Devils.
The Kings have vastly improved over the last few months (after a trade and coaching change) as the players have become so in synch with each other that L.A.’s lines seem to move in flawless formations with each man knowing exactly what each of his teammates is doing and where on the ice he’s doing it.
L.A. has won games while being outplayed because the Kings players have consistently been in the right place at the right time for rebounds, redirects and deflections near the net, on faceoffs, etc. Despite playing extremely well in Game 5, the Kings lacked their usual “right place, right time” magic. Missed shots that lingered deliciously close to Martin Brodeur and were ripe for the taking went untouched by the Kings who were often times nowhere near position when it came to rebounds and second chances. The Kings were off-kilter while the Devils were carried on the back of Brodeur.
With Bryce Salvador’s shot deflecting off of L.A.’s Slava Voynov and into the net, along with captain Zach Parise’s goal, the Devils found themselves with the “right place, right time” style typically fit for the Kings.
With the 2-1 victory, the Devils became the first team to force a Game 6 after losing the the first three in the Stanley Cup Final since 1945 and only the third team ever (out of 26) to do so since adopting a seven-game series format in 1939.
Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have overcome a 0-3 deficit in the finals to win Lord Stanley’s cup. 33 years later, the New York Islanders turned the 0-3 upside down on the Penguins, beating Pittsburgh in seven games in the 1975 quarterfinals.
But what has me worried is what I watched with my own two eyes while I lived in Boston in 2010 as the Philadelphia Flyers became only the third team (in 167 tries) in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a series. The momentum shift was palpable in that series, like a ship swaying back and forth on choppy waters. The ship finally settled in Philly’s favor after the Flyers took Game 5. That was the turning point, the halfway mark.
It’s easy to say, “boy, it sure is hard to beat a team four straight times.” Heck, I thought there was NO WAY that after winning 20 straight games, the Spurs could lose four in a row to the Thunder. It just didn’t make sense.
But it does make sense, especially in a sport like hockey where one mistake can cost an entire game. The first two games in this series could’ve gone either way. The series easily could have returned to L.A. with the Devils leading 2-0. That’s why it is so hard to predict “if the Kings lose Game 6, they’re done. The momentum will be clearly on the Devils’ side and it’s over.” All of the momentum in the world can’t stop one guy from making one mistake, turning the tide.
If the Kings do lose Game 6 at home, Game 7 will prove to be one fierce battle for the crown as it will truly be anyone’s game. I say Kings in six, or Devils in seven.
You might want to think twice the next time you ask your favorite celebrity to take a photo with you. The keepsake could land you smack dab in the middle of a federal trial.
Wrapping its sixth week of testimony, the Roger Clemens perjury trial remains slow (two jurors were dismissed for falling asleep), complex (scientific experts used the number “quintillion” during testimony) and filled with endless faces, stories and contradictions.
When looking at the evidence, I think it’s safe to assume most of us think that yes, the Rocket juiced at some point, and yes, he straight up lied about it to Congress, under oath. That said, there is enough reasonable doubt surrounding Clemens’ former trainer Brian McNamee’s shoddy preservation of a needle and cotton balls (containing Clemens’ DNA) in a beer can for six years to keep this case from being a slam dunk for the prosecution.
For our purposes here, who cares about the science? Instead, let’s talk about the smut…errr, circumstantial evidence, which is much more entertaining and easy to comprehend for those of us who didn’t take the Bar or spend four years of college in a labratory.
As one should expect, things went awry for the seven-time Cy Young winner, starting with former major-leaguer and infamous dope (multiple meanings intended) Jose Canseco.
Note to anyone involved in sports: DO NOT GO NEAR JOSE CANSECO.
It’s too late for Rog, but others can learn from his mistakes.
Here’s the deal: Canseco (Clemens’ then-Blue Jays teammate) hosted a pool party at his pad in South Florida back on June 9, 1998, where McNamee testified to seeing Clemens, Canseco and another man chatting about steroids. This anecdote was one of many that helped finger Clemens as a cheater back in 2007 when facts were being researched for the infamous Mitchell Report.
Here’s the problem: The following is part of Clemens’ 2008 testimony, UNDER OATH, about his presence at said party:
“I never was at the party. I wasn’t here at this — at a party that he had. I could have gone by there after a golf outing. So — but I was not at this party.”
Au contraire, according to Alexander Lowrey. As an 11-year-old kid back in 1998, Lowrey had the rare opportunity to party poolside with several of his favorite athletes, and you’d better bet he wasn’t leaving without a picture or two.
Lowrey was invited to the party by a handyman who worked for both his family’s business and Canseco.
Now 25 years old, Lowrey testified before the jury that aside from taking a tour of Canseco’s MTV Cribs-style estate, he played Wiffleball with some of the other kids (including Clemens’ son Koby) and even mustered up the courage to approach the eventual 11-time All-Star.
Lowrey asked Clemens for a picture, and the pitching great kindly obliged. The prosecution showed the jury a photo of Clemens swimming in the pool and another (below) of Clemens standing in the pool with his arm around a young Lowrey sitting at the pool’s edge.
There are so many things wrong with this picture, Clemens’ receding, bleach-job being the most obvious dysfunction. But from a legal standpoint, the more upsetting fact is the inherent proof in the photo’s existence that Clemens blatantly BS’d the House Committee back in 2008.
Lowrey’s photo and testimony lends credibility to McNamee (who spent 26 hours over a span of five days on the witness stand) while simultaneously dealing a big blow to Clemens’ believability.
The big picture became clearer as one little photo suggested that not only has Clemens wasted the last several years of his life denying steroid use, but we the taxpayers will have spent lord knows how much money on another cheating athlete by the end of this silly trial. As if we don’t spend enough money on jerseys, tickets, parking, and TV packages! It’s offensive.
Note to self: DO NOT LIE TO THE GOVERNMENT.
Didn’t Rog pay any attention to what happened to our 42nd President? You don’t question the meaning of “is.” You don’t “misremember” things.
Both Bill Clinton and Clemens got caught cheating and lied about it in Washington. The difference is, the only person owed an explanation from Bill was Hillary, whereas Clemens is accountable to his teammates, competitors and the fans for his crimes.
You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension.
L.A. Dodgers. Washington Nationals. Cleveland Indians. Baltimore Orioles.
Major League Baseball has entered the Twilight Zone.
Many of baseball’s typical cellar dwellers have played their way to the top of their respective divisions, leaving fans and pundits alike eye-rubbing and head-shaking.
The McCourTrain Wrecks, errrrr, Dodgers have the best record in the entire National League, the caveat being that we’re only 33 games into the regular season and in baseball, that’s nothin.
Now the question is which of these underdogs-turned-top dogs will last through the All-Star break and which will slide back down into the depths of disappointment?
In my MLB season preview I predicted the Dodgers would win the NL West and was surprised at how low many websites ranked them heading into the regular season. Do a Cy Young winner and MVP runner-up mean nothing to these people? The Dodgers had unknowns in other areas, true, but with a proven player like Andre Ethier, coupled with up-and-comer Dee Gordon and James Loney -who had a great second half last year- the boys in blue deserved a bit of respect.
Now they’ve earned it. With new ownership came an optimistic outlook on every phase of the Dodgers ball club from play on the field to parking at Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers have five guys batting .300 or better and currently, Clayton Kershaw isn’t even the best pitcher on the staff as Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano are a combined 9-0 thus far.
Offensively, the Dodgers rank 12th in runs in all of baseball, seventh in batting average, fifth in on base percentage and ninth in slugging percentage. That’s pretty impressive. LA isn’t too shabby on the defensive end either, ranking third in fielding in the NL.
Matt Kemp has done more than his fair share in taking the Dodgers to the top. The center fielder leads the NL in several categories, ranking third in batting average (.375), second in home runs (12) and third in RBI (27).
While the Dodgers are sitting pretty with a six-game lead in the NL West, we all know a lead like that this early in the season is of little relevance (see: 2011 Braves, Red Sox). The six-game cushion might not mean a whole lot right now, but the Dodgers have the talent in a weaker division and thus the best chance to stay atop the standings for the foreseeable future.
The rest of the gang is less predictable.
The downside for Washington is the fact that the Atlanta Braves are right on their heels and of course, Jayson Werth and Michael Morse being out with injuries. But there’s a ton of upside for the Nats, most notably, the pitching staff.
Washington leads the NL with a 2.65 ERA and ranks tied for second in the NL with 10 saves (the Braves lead the way with 14). Steven Strasberg has been outstanding while Gio Gonzalez is close behind, although needing to improve in the area of walking batters.
Rookie Bryce Harper invigorated the Nats as he started his major league career with a bang, but the teenager has since slowed down, going 1-13 in his last three games. After striking out four times total in his first 10 games, Harper has bit the dust four times in his last two games alone. Overall, the kid has a more than respectable stat line, hitting .233 with six extra base hits and three RBI. He’ll figure a way out of his current slump which should keep the Nats afloat.
With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley sidelined for the foreseeable future, I wouldn’t worry about the Phillies surging in the division any time soon. If anyone is going to challenge the Nationals, it’s Atlanta who is already doing a great job of pressuring Washington to play for the win every single time out. The Nats can go either way by the time All-Star break rolls around.
Meanwhile the Indians and Orioles sure are making things interesting in the American League. Ordinarily, I would count the Orioles out just for being the Orioles, and secondly, because of the fact that they play in the toughest division year in and year out.
There’s no denying that the Birds are off to an impressive start ranking second in the AL in pitching (with a 3.34 ERA, right behind the Rangers) and fifth in runs. The O’s defense is nothing to write home about as they rank dead last in fielding, yet whatever they are doing is working as Baltimore holds on to a one-game lead over the Rays with the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox bringing up the rear.
The Orioles are eighth in all of baseball in runs, fifth overall in slugging percentage and rank all the way at the top -numero uno overall- with 53 home runs. Seriously. Who knew? Adam Jones is having a breakout year as he leads the Birds in nearly every offensive category including batting average (.288), home runs (10), RBI (19) and hits (38).
Jason Hammel looks good on the mound with a 2.09 ERA and 4-1 record in six starts. Closer Jim Johnson is second in the AL with 10 saves thus far.
I like the Orioles and have wondered why they had such a hard time over the last few years as they had plenty of talent in the lineup. That said, I can’t picture them leading the AL East in July. Forget the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rays are scary enough! I don’t see the Birds holding on through the All-Star break but I sure hope they can pull it off as it would be a great story for baseball and wonderful for the city of Baltimore.
That brings us to the Cleveland Indians. Sadly, I think Cleveland in first place says more about Detroit than Cleveland.
With Justin Verlander, Prince Filder, Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson, the Tigers should be demolishing fellow-AL Central opponents. Unfortunately for Detroit, Doug Fister is out of commission and the bullpen is hideous making it tough to find consistency from game-to-game.
Thus the Tigers have left the door wide open for a team like Cleveland, who, with middle of the road stats, can find a place at the top of the pack.
Despite having one of the higher ERAs in the AL (4.14), Cleveland has found a way to win, primarily by doing a mighty fine job of getting on base, ranking fourth overall with a .341 OBP. The tandem of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipinis has done enough offensively to keep Cleveland in the win column while closer Chris Perez has impressed with 11 saves. Derek Lowe is 5-1 in seven starts with a 2.47 ERA.
If the way Cleveland is playing now is good enough to to make it to the postseason, well, that’s not a good sign for baseball.
I question Cleveland’s ability to stay atop the AL Central because when a division is as bad as this one is, it’s anyone’s game. Erratic teams go up and down, in and out of slumps, making it hard to predict anything other than chaos.
I expect the Tigers to get their mojo back sooner or later, and I’m guessing it will be sooner than July. Cleveland fans, enjoy this ride while it lasts because the fun could come to a grinding halt at any moment.
A stellar 24-hours of baseball began with a star-studded, Hollywood-esque birthday party for Fenway Park as the Red Sox (and Yankees) celebrated the historic landmark’s centennial. The festivities were all flash and no substance as New York handily beat Boston 6-2, the visitors leaving not as much as a party favor for the host team. As many of us watched pitcher Felix Dubront and the Red Sox seemingly redeeming themselves by ripping the Yankees a new one with a 9-0 lead in the fifth inning in the second game of the series, perhaps we assumed Boston had the game in hand, playing at home and using Fenway’s birthday blowout from the day before as some added motivation.
When Mark Teixeira hit a solo home run in the sixth inning putting the Yankees on the scoreboard 9-1, barely an eyelash was batted. Still a 9-1 ballgame in the seventh inning, before any of us had time to contemplate a New York comeback, Fox switched it’s live coverage over to the White Sox game in Seattle as a perfect game was in the making.
Those of us watching live were lucky enough to catch the last few outs as White Sox pitcher Phil Humbert threw a perfect game, only the 21st such feat in the history of major league baseball. The last perfect game was thrown by the Phillies’ Roy Halladay back in 2010.
The drama unfolding on the television was palpable at home on the couch as perfection seemed to be in jeopardy when Michael Saunders, leading off for the Mariners in the ninth, got ahead in the count 3-0. The 29-year-old righty remained composed, coming back from the deficit to eventually strike out Saunders en route to a masterful perfect game.
What ended as a joyous, historic occasion marked by the Mariners home crowd giving the visiting pitcher a raucous roar and standing ovation in Seattle morphed into a historic swing of a different kind across the country in Boston.
A mere 11 minutes after Fox completely switched its coverage, taking the White Sox-Mariners game full-screen, the network returned to Fenway Park where the game was still in the top of the seventh inning, yet the scoreboard looked noticeably different. In those 11 minutes, the Boston bullpen allowed New York to load the bases giving Nick Swisher ample opportunity to hit a grand slam, which is exactly what he did.
The comeback was officially on as Swisher’s slam put a dent in the lead (9-5), but no, the Yankees didn’t stop there. A three-run homer from Teixeira put the Yankees right back in the game as the visitors had clawed their way out of a 9-0 hole, scoring seven runs in the seventh inning, trailing only by one run, 9-8.
I’m sure you know where this is going.
Things only worsened for the home team in the eighth inning as the Yankees scored ANOTHER SEVEN RUNS to complete an epic comeback.
The dichotomy of Humber’s perfection in Seattle and the perfect storm resulting in Boston’s unfathomable collapse was an emotionally bipolar experience.
Contrary to popular East Coast-belief, the entire universe doesn’t care about your average Yankees-Red Sox series. If you don’t live out East, aren’t a fan of either team, or aren’t a baseball nut, a New York-Boston series a few weeks into the regular season isn’t that enticing. But a comeback from a 9-0 deficit is. And so is a perfect game, no matter the name or face of the pitcher.
On one hand, we saw nine strikeouts, five groundouts and 13 flyouts on 96 pitches, good for a 4-0 White Sox win and perfect game, dog pile and Gatorade bath included.
On the other hand, we watched the Yankees score a mind-boggling 15 runs in 23 at bats leaving the crowd ruthlessly booing the home team and its new manager Bobby Valentine.
After the layers of cheering teammates were peeled off from on top of him, Humber was quickly ushered to the dugout area and a headset draped atop his head as the world was ready to hear from the pitcher immediately following his dominating display. Shaking and unable to grasp what he had just accomplished, Humber, coming off of Tommy John surgery, told the television audience, “I’m just so happy. There are so many good things that are happening right now…I’ve got a little boy on the way, I just want to say hi to my wife back home, and you know I love you baby. That’s for you.”
Humber altered the record books, his performance the 18th no-hitter in White Sox franchise history and the third perfect game for Chicago.
A few thousand miles away, the scene at Fenway couldn’t have been more opposite as the heinous loss dropped the Red Sox to 4-10 on the season leaving those in the New England region frowning while those in Chicago, and even Seattle, smiled.
The Yankees 15-9 victory also required a re-write of the record book as it marked the fifth time in franchise history in which New York has overcame a 9-run deficit, the third time against Boston alone. The last time the Sox surrendered a nine-run lead to the Yanks came in June, 1987. Saturday’s game tied the biggest comeback in Yankees history as well. The pitching line for the Boston bullpen? 3 IP, 12 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 5 BB, 2 K. YIKES.
Reports out of Boston claim a closed-door meeting with Valentine, GM Ben Cherington and team owner John Henry took place after the game.
The knockout combo of a perfect game and epic failure couldn’t be more perfect for the game of baseball at this moment as the start of the season had yet to deliver substantial drama. Ironically, the Red Sox were the first team to provide any real regular season intrigue as Valentine got the pot to a slow boil after publicly criticizing Kevin Youkilis, but that was small potatoes compared to Saturday’s stunner.
The fire and ice we experienced Saturday left fans wanting more, which is exactly the kickstart baseball needed in April.
I watched a TV interview with Francoeur today and this dude is awesome. The KC outfilder threw a baseball wrapped in a $100 bill up into the stands and told the A’s fans that “beer and bacon is on me.” HA! And it only gets better from there. What a cool story. Click the link to read it: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/jeff-francoeur-gets-pizza-delivered-fans-bleachers-233500021.html
Has hell officially frozen over? One might think so with the Dodgers, Nationals and Mets boasting the first, third and fourth best records in all of baseball, respectively. Making some sense at least are the Rangers with the second-best record in the league, but with the Orioles leading the AL East, something is definitely fishy in the majors right now.
I know it’s hard for some of you east coasters to keep your cool right now, but seriously Yankees and Red Sox fans, we’re not even 10 games into the season so please wait at least another month before you completely lose it.
Most season previews and Power Rankings I viewed at the conclusion of spring training predicted the Dodgers would be down in the dumps this year (yet again) but I disagreed and said as much in my own MLB season preview. Luckily, the boys in blue are making me look good as Los Angeles not only has the best record in baseball at 8-1, but that number is good for the Dodgers best start since starting the 1981 season at 9-1…a season that resulted in a World Series championship for L.A.
While the broke (see: Frank McCourt) and seemingly broke down Dodgers appeared to be devoid of any expectations from the national media or the public, that other team across the 405 freeway. with all its glitz and glam, was facing the exact opposite situation with the addition of bazillion-dollar off-season acquisitions Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.
In a bizarre reversal of fortune, the Dodgers are getting all of the praise while the now Pujols-led Angels (3-5) are bringing up the rear in not only their own division but the Halos are also near the bottom of the entire American League as well.
There is no real battle for L.A. at the moment - the Angels don’t even play in Los Angeles County, much less L.A. city proper, so, there’s that - as this isn’t a fair fight based on the Dodgers early dominance.
Matt Kemp picked up right where he left off as the NL-MVP runner up leads the majors with five home runs, 15 RBI and a .457 batting average. The center fielder isn’t the only hot hand at Chavez Ravine as right fielder Andre Ethier is close on Kemp’s heels with three home runs and 14 RBI, good for second-best in the league.
Now, to the downside. Yes, there is a downside. It’s called the Padres and Pirates.
That’s who the Dodgers have amassed an 8-1 record against. The Padres and the Pirates. Yikes.
It’s hard to take anyone seriously as a contender after the first nine of 162 games in a regular season but it’s also harder to give a team props when their “strong start” comes against two of the worst teams in baseball (thus far).
As for the new-look Angels, the boo-birds are already out making a stink about signing Pujols to a 10-year, $240M contract. Along with the three-time NL MVP came Wilson, the lefty who carried a hefty $77.5M price tag of his own.
The 31-year-old Pujols is off to to a S-L-O-W start, hitting an underwhelming .250 with only three RBI and not a hint of a home run in his repertoire . Fear not though Angels fans because the team is strong without Pujols, as proven by Anaheim’s 7-1 spanking of the Yankees in the Bronx on Saturday.
Remember how Boston’s big bat David Ortiz was hammered by the media during his slow start over the last few seasons? The Red Sox slugger routinely struggled for the first month of the season before warming up and regaining his typical good form in the batter’s box.
Pujols said after the Angels’ Friday loss to the Yankees, “I’m a human. Sometimes you want to press a little bit and try to do too much.” Slumps are often times mental and have nothing to do with physical pain or problems. Signing a contract of this magnitude surely put enormous pressure on Pujols’ shoulders and it’s showing early.
This wouldn’t be the first time Pujols found himself in a pickle. In the final year of his contract with the Cardinals - without an extension in sight - Pujols was hitting .143 through the first 30 at bats last season. How did that wind up for St. Louis? Exactly.
Much like the role reversal of the Mets and Yankees in New York for the time being, L.A. has the potential to be the baseball capital of the country this season.
It’s too early to crown anyone king of anything, so lets regroup after 30 games to reexamine Kemp and Kershaw vs. Pujols and Wilson. After all, what purpose would either team serve in SoCal without any Hollywood drama? Sit back, and enjoy the show.
Maybe you love Kobe Bryant, or perhaps you can’t stand the guy. Maybe you are all aboard on the “Black Mamba” train, or perhaps you resent the nickname because Bryant gave it to himself.
Could I at least interest you in a “Masked Mamba?”
Regardless of your personal feelings, Bryant has one of the best nicknames of any active athlete because it is ….gasp… original!
In 2010, a kid at one of Bryant’s basketball camps ( http://tinyurl.com/86cqs5t ) asked the L.A. Lakers star where the nickname came from, and here’s what the Mamba himself had to say:
“Its one of my favorite snakes…I won’t encourage you to be like me. I’m a thrill-seeker. So I love sharks. I love Black Mambas. I love King Cobras. I love stuff that can really kind of do you bodily harm… I’ve actually learned a great deal from animals, how they behave and how they hunt, and Black Mamba was one that really jumped out at me and caught my attention.”
The nickname really does fit Bryant’s personality, so I’m all for it. It makes perfect sense.
A little more than a year ago, I read a lengthy yet interesting column about hockey player nicknames. The gist of the article was that ice hockey players once had some of the most inventive and unique nicknames, an aspect of sports rarely seen today. The writer provided a history of handles and compared them with today’s modern monikers. It was no contest; the old guys won that battle, hands down.
If you think about it, most of today’s athletes have uninspiring nicknames that lack any creativity or personal significance.
DWill, KG, KD, ARod, AI , DWade, LBJ, JKidd, JRich, CP3, and TO are just some of the many initials-based/birth certificate-related nicknames that comprise headlines, blog posts and twitter feeds while appealing to no one, unable to evoke a smile, a scowl or any emotional response.
But what’s the fun in a nickname if there is nothing fun about it?
For the longest time, I have blamed Chris Webber for this custom of conventionality because he was the first guy I can remember who became a mega-star with the “first name, first letter” + “last name, first syllable” nickname equation. But just today, after all of these years, I turned my own world upside down when I realized Flo-Jo was probably the real OG of this flawed fad. I am no longer upset with Mr. Webber, nor could I ever be mad at the great Florence Joyner who rocked “Flo-Jo” in the freshest way.
Anyway, I thought we could take a moment to recognize the various “classes” of athlete nicknames. FYI, I’m not including diminutives or nicknames that were given at birth or childhood, a la Tiger Woods, Mookie Blaylock, Bonzie Wells, etc.
That said, let’s roll!
In-Betweeners (it’s not original, but at least it’s better than J-Will):
- Superman (Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard)
- The King (LeBron James)
- Flash (Dwayne Wade)
- Glenn “Doc” Rivers (google where “Doc” came from)
- Big Baby (Glen Davis)
- Pacman (Adam Jones)
- Playmaker (Michael Irvin)
- Linsanity (Jeremy Lin… see: Vince Carter)
- Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain
- Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon
- Clyde “The Glide” Drexler
- Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
- “Big Game” James Worthy
- “Mean” Joe Green
- Nick “The Quick” Van Exel
- The Wizard of Westwood (John Wooden)
- Bear Bryant (Paul Bryant… okay, he was a teenager when he got the nickname, but the guy agreed to wrestle a bear, so he makes the list based on chutzpah alone)
- Pistol Pete (Pete Maravich)
- The Mailman (Karl Malone)
- The Admiral (David Robinson)
- The Captain (Kareem Abdul Jabbar)
- The Greatest (Muhammad Ali)
- The Great One (Wayne Gretzky)
Best Nicknames You’ve Never Heard:
- The Stratford Streak/The Mitchell Meteor (Howie Morenz… http://tinyurl.com/75ypsxg )
- Walter “Sneeze” Achiu (Walter Tin Kit Achiu http://tinyurl.com/7odmbra )
- Dr. J (Julius Irving)
- The Rocket (Roger Clemens)
- Megatron (Calvin Johnson)
- The Shark (Greg Norman)
- Big Papi (David Ortiz)
- Neon (Deion Sanders)
- The Worm (Dennis Rodman)
- Duke of Flatbush (Edwin Snyder)
- Zeke (Isiah Thomas)
- Air Jordan (Michael Jordan)
- The Bus (Jerome Bettis)
- Broadway Joe (Joe Namath)
- Golden Boy (Oscar De La Hoya)
- Vinsanity (Vince Carter)
- The Big Ticket (Kevin Garnett)
- World B. Free (Lloyd Bernard Free)
- The Big Fundamental (Tim Duncan)
- Babe/Bambino/Sultan of Swat (George Herman Ruth)
- Sweetness (Walter Payton)
- The Glove (Gary Payton)
- Iceman (George Gervin)
- The Flying Dutchman (Honus Wagner)
- Thorpedo (Ian Thorpe)
- Golden Bear (Jack Nicklaus)
- The Freak (Jevon Kearse)
- Shoeless Joe Jackson (Joe Jackson…Duh.)
- The Flying Tomato (Shaun White)
- Iron Mike (Mike Tyson)
- Mr. October (Reggie Jackson)
Runner Up for Best Nickname:
The one and only, “The Say Hey Kid,” Willie Mays.
And…. the best nickname EV-ER…OF ALL TIME…. is….
Irvin “Magic” Johnson. You can’t beat Magic.
Surely, I have left plenty of folks off this list, so feel free to tweet me with your favorites at @Jackie_Pepper
Cloudy With A Chance Of Laughs: World Series Pitcher Crashes Local News Broadcast
We are used to seeing athletes make the transition from sports star to media member after retirement, but rarely do we meet current players who came into the pros already equipped with a journalism or broadcast background.
Derrick Holland is the Chupacabra of athletes. The Texas Rangers pitcher is great at his day job, studied journalism and broadcasting in college and has a fantastic sense of humor. Covering a guy like him in a baseball clubhouse must provide some comic relief for reports since American’s pasttime might be the toughest sport to cover for a variety of reasons (clubhouse culture, number of games, seemingly endless hours of media availability, etc).
The national audience got its first peek at the lefty’s wacky personality during game five of the World Series last season when Holland broke out his impressions of Harry Caray and Arnold Schwarzenegger on air.
A few months after the Rangers gut-wrenching game seven loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, Holland was back on television laughing and having a good time as he crashed the weather set at WFAA Channel 8 in Dallas. Check out Holland as he relived his college news channel glory days in front of the WFAA cameras. As someone who once attempted to do weather on the morning show at my old station (KIDK, CBS in Idaho Falls, ID), I can confirm what Holland makes quite clear…it isn’t as easy as it looks! Enjoy.
I’m looking at the National League leaders from last season where names like Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols pop up in the top five nearly every offensive statistic. Fielder and Pujols are about to find themselves in a different column all together after a wild off-season sent the heavy hitters to the American League, changing the MLB landscape.
Aside from the money (both Fielder and Pujols signed multi-year contracts worth over $200 million… yes, 200 MILLION DOLLARS), it shouldn’t come as a shock that guys hitting 37 and 38 home runs (Pujols and Fielder, respectively) are leaving the NL for the AL, home of the designated hitter. Between Fielder’s weight (275 lbs. on a 5’11 frame) and Pujols’ age (32), it would make sense for both guys to make the switch to full-time batter within the next few years.
I don’t understand why baseball has allowed each league to have different rules, especially considering it was not always that way. I love to see pitchers at the plate. Even though most pitchers stink at hitting, I think there is something to be said for every single man on the roster being responsible for throwing and hitting the ball at some point in every game. I find it fascinating watching a pitcher pitch to his fellow hurler, and when a pitcher does get a hit (or a home run, which I watched my hometown Dodgers fall victim to four times last season), the reaction of his teammates and fans is usually priceless.
On the other hand, I get that a guy hitting 30-something home runs in a season is much more exciting. Despite his struggles in the first few months of the last few seasons, the roar of the Fenway Park crowd each time David Ortiz takes the plate is something special. Sure, Big Papi was instrumental in Boston’s World Series titles, but there’s just something about a big guy like that at bat. No need to worry about him trying to catch a runner in the outfield, or make a big play at third, just enjoy him doing what he does best.
The designated hitter position has required the AL to stack the deck with the best pitchers in the game, although the top five guys in each league were all spectacular last season.
If Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia , Jered Weaver and James Shields thought they had their work cut out for them last season staring down the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson and a slew of others, now they get to add Fielder and Pujols to that list. YIKES.
The AL West alone looks ridiculous! The two-time World Series runner-up Texas Rangers added Yu Darvish to the lineup and the the new-look Pujols-infused Anaheim Angeles should improve mightily on top of already owning a fantastic pitching staff.
In the AL Central, the division-winning Detroit Tigers will only get better, now with Fielder, Cabrera and Peralta in the same lineup.
As further evidence of a power swing, I just typed an entire blog about the AL without mentioning the Yankees or Red Sox. Saying nothing about New York or Boston says a lot about the direction in which the American League is heading.
Pitcher Mark Buehrle found himself between a rock and a hard place when it came time to sign his name on the dotted line in Miami. Before agreeing to a four-year, $58 million dollar contract with the Marlins in December, the lefty had to figure out how he and his family could move to South Florida because of a law banning various breeds of Pit Bulls in Miami-Dade County, on the books since 1989.
Buehrle, his wife Jamie and their two children are proud owners of Slater, an American Staffordshire Terrier (pictured above), along with three Viszals (Diesel, Drake and Duke), and do a lot of work with animal organizations.
If you recall, Buehrle stirred the pot after Michael Vick’s first season with the Eagles after the quarterback was reinstated following a federal prison sentence for his role in operating a vicious dog fighting ring.
In a joint interview with his wife for MLB.com, Buehrle said of Vick, “He had a great year and a great comeback, but there were times where we watched the game, and I know it’s bad to say, but there were times where we hope he gets hurt. Everything you’ve done to these dogs, something bad needs to happen to these guys.”
Strong words that were undoubtedly echoed by many animal lovers worldwide, and equally condemned at the same time. Buehrle, who as a result of the ban in Miami-Dade county is living farther away from the Marlins’ facility in Broward County, also lent his opinions on the Pit Bull law to the Miami Herald.
“It’s kind of ridiculous that because of the way a dog looks, people will ban it,” Buehrle told the Herald. “Every kind of dog has good and bad, and that depends on the handlers. If you leave a dog outside all the time, it’ll be crazy. Slater would never do anything harmful.”
In an unscientific poll I’ve conducted, the postal workers in my neighborhood (all of whom have been bitten by dogs on the job) all perceive small dogs as more of a threat than Pit Bulls based on the the pooches that have attacked them. Yipper yappers, as I call them, can be quite dangerous themselves. In other words, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Like Buehrle, I too am a bit biased as I own a Pit Bull mix who is the sweetest, friendliest dog you’ll ever meet. A law banning a specific breed of dog is just one of many reasons why dogs end up on the streets, abandoned and in the pound. A blogger on Yahoo Sports made a great point that not every family has Mark Buehrle money, and if you are forced to move for a new job, what choice are you left with in terms of the family pet? It’s really a shame to even think about a situation like that.
Luckily, the Buehrle family has the resources to take a new job and keep their dog. Hopefully the fact that Buerhle made a stink about it will raise awareness in the Miami area, perhaps influencing an eventual overturn of the ban.
Looking for a sports reporter? I think I know of one…
The Southern California sun is shinning brightly in Dallas Thursday as Orange County is now the belle of the ball at Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings.
In stark contrast to Frank McCourt and his bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers, business must be great for cross-county rival Arte Moreno as the L.A. Angels of Anaheim owner dropped just under $330M to sign slugger Albert Pujols and pitcher CJ Wilson on Thursday.
For a bit of context, check out the following tweet from Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan:
@JeffPassan: Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson will cost Arte Moreno $147.5 million more than the entire Los Angeles Angels franchise did.
Anyway, the Angels have only one World Series title (2002) and haven’t made the playoffs in two seasons, yet Angel Stadium ranked fifth in the league in fan attendance last season. Let’s take a quick look at the facts and you can decide for yourself whether or not you like the signings.
Pujols, 10 years, $250M: At 31 years old, the former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman has 10 seasons of batting at least .300 with at least 100 RBIs and has 445 home runs under his belt.
Wilson, 5 years, $77.5M: Also 31, the lefty went 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA with the Texas Rangers in 2011. According to the LA Times, “In 10 playoff games, nine of them starts, Wilson is 1-5 with a 4.82 ERA, allowing 46 hits, including 10 home runs, striking out 43 and walking 29 in 52 1/3 innings.”
By the way, huge props to the LA Times for reporting, “Albert Pujols being aggressively pursued by Angels” at 11:19pm EST on Wednesday. I’m not sure if they were the first, but this story seemingly came out of nowhere Thursday morning, didn’t it?
What do you guys think of the Angels new acquisitions? Obviously, time will tell but it certainly is fun to pull out the crystal ball and make predictions. My friend Lee wrote me saying, “Pujols is not a good long term decision, and Wilson has had…1 good year…we’ll see. I’d much rather have Prince Fielder for 6 yrs and Mark Buerhle for 3 yrs.”
Wilson is joining an already outstanding pitching staff and Pujols is one of the best players of all time, so barring serious injuries or a catastrophic collapse (a la the 2011 Boston Red Sox) the Angels should be in good shape, at bare minimum. Whether they win or lose on the field, the organization has won big, at least in the short term as fans will flock to Angel Stadium.
Despite the outstanding seasons of Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp at Chavez Ravine last year, the disarray of the Dodgers organization coupled with a strong hispanic fan base and their desire to see Pujols will finally be the catalyst the Angels needed to get some of the Dodger faithful to make the drive to Anaheim.