Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011

It's On

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

El Caballero del Santiago

Last night, New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes played in the 1,000th game of his career. The 28-year-old from Santiago in the Dominican notched four hits in a single game for the fourth time this season. He also scored three times and stole a base as the Mets routed the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Such a stat line is turning into a pedestrian night at the ballpark for this player whose churning legs propel him around the bases like one of those thin, streamlined Top Fuel dragsters that needs a parachute to stop before it bursts into flames.

Just outside Detroit's picturesque ballpark is a statue Tigers Hall of Famer Ty Cobb sliding, presumably into third. Widely considered the greatest ballplayer in the Deadball Era and arguably the most devastating non-power hitter that the game has ever seen, Cobb is a big enough deal that the one and only Tommy Lee jones portrayed him in a biopic. Such honors are not accorded to just any Texas Ranger sharing a house and learning life lessons with collegiate cheerleaders person.

Among Reyes' four hits was a triple in the fourth. It was his 98th career triple. The swipe was the 360th of his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other player with as many triples and stolen bases in his first 1,000 career games — since 1898, when the modern stolen base rule was enacted — was that very same Cobb, who had 106 triples and 391 steals.

Let's just take a moment to consider this fact: Jose Reyes, the very same player who becomes a free agent at the conclusion of this, thus-far, entertaining campaign, has begun his career with statistics that had previously only been achieved by Ty Fucking Cobb, the guy who earned the most Hall of Fame induction votes among the inaugural class to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

The signature image of Cobb - nicknamed the "Georgia Peach" in honor of his home and talent - is one of him recklessly tearing into third base with dirt flying and his spikes sharpened. According to Wikipedia, the Detroit Free Press (or the FREEP for those in the know) once referred to Cobb as "daring to the point of dementia." And, I'm pretty sure that the New York tabloids have said mostly the same about Reyes over the years. Fittingly, the increasingly recognizable freeze frame of Reyes is also one of him taking third like a flash flood. Except Reyes is coming, dirt still flying, arms extended and head first. Unlike the cantankerous Cobb, Reyes is joyful and effervescent in his play. He isn't trying to spike the third baseman to clear his path. Rather, he's going to pop up and throw his claw or whatever his celebratory hand gesture de jour is back to his wide-eyed teammates in the dugout. Cobb's critics didn't like him because they claimed he was a sonufabitch whereas Reyes' claim that he reminds them to much of their own overzealous and overconfident sons. Given the choice of head first or spikes first, I'd rather root for the smile.


For all his irrepressible athleticism and the deluge of base hits that got him to this point, I was particularly impressed by the patience Reyes showed in the final at-bat of his 1,000th game. I hope it points towards the player that Reyes will continue to become for whomever he plays the next 1,000 games of his career. With the Mets staked to a 13-2 lead in the 7th inning, Mets manager Terry Collins let Reyes take one last at-bat before pulling him from the game. With two singles, a double and a triple already scratched into our scorecards, he was one home run from the cycle. Collins only let him come to bat to try for that longball.

Reyes showed a modicum of patience by taking three balls that weren't particularly close to open the at-bat. Sitting 3-0 and sitting on the cycle, I'd have to think that he had the greenlight, or, at the very least, would be forgiven for running the red. But Reyes stood, bat on shoulder, and watched a strike come right down the middle. The count was 3-1 and it was clear that he was never, not even for a second, tempted to impulsively hack at that pitch. The next offering was another ball. Reyes took it, contentedly. He trotted down to first base with a wide smile on his face, where Ruben Tejada came in to pinch-run for him. That walk was Reyes' 26th of the season to go with the same number of strikeouts. In 2010, he notched just 31 in 133 games. I'd like to think that Mets' OBP-oriented brass took note of that at-bat.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Balancing the Books

After looking like an overmatched Minor League nine as they scuffled to a start the 2011 Major League season and then being stricken by injuries to middle-of-the-order bats Ike Davis and David Wright, the New York Metropolitans have scrambled their way back to mediocrity.

Once Gary Cohen officially put last night's 4-0 win over the Atlanta Braves in the books, the team's record was level at 34 wins and 34 losses. With a lineup stocked with players who began the season plying their trade for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, the Metsies have rebounded from that 5-13 start to post a winning record in May and a winning record so far into June. All told, they're 29-21 since that dismal start.


After years of strained relations between the fanbase and the team, these 2011 Mets have quietly become an easy team to root for because somewhere, somehow, the excitable Terry Collins has struck a chord in the Mets' own excitable boy: Jose Reyes. The team has taken on the demeanor of this unlikely pair and the result is an up-beat and relentless approach.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No Slowing Speed Rey-cer

During the balmy, bright summers of yesteryear, when the sun showered a warm Technicolor-glow over every Big League diamond, baseball had a rough-hewn romance about it. Players were wide-eyed innocents who worked offseason jobs as carpenters and drank on the road with the newspapermen. Those sportswriters in turn treated ballplayers like heroes and had little interest in belittling or embarrassing them in the eyes of fans, who blissfully ignorant of advanced statistics treasure the RBI and the bunt. It was a simple time when the spitball was remembered fondly and the unruly, anything goes version of the game seems much closer at hand than the sterile, instant-replay iteration that exists today.

Back in the 1960s, as that era began to give way to this one, the Dodgers' Maury Wills was a terror on the basepaths, two-leggedly returning the stolen base to a place of prominence in the game. His 50 swipes in 1960 were the most by a player in season since the 1920s. Two seasons later, Wills stole an eye-popping 102 bags to break Ty Cobb's record of 96 set back in 1915. Those 102 stolen bases were more than any other entire team had to their credit in 1962.

Playing on a Los Angeles Dodgers team led by Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, Wills' speed often made the difference in low-scoring games. He was so feared that, opponents would do anything they could to slow him down. And I read (I believe in some coffee table book about the "greatest" ballplayers) that the rival San Francisco Giants had a particularly effective means of halting Wills progress between bases at Candlestick Park. As best I remember from whatever it was I read (ed note: that's a disclaimer in case it wasn't the Giants and was actually the Reds or some other NL club), they would soak down the infield dirt with water until it was just a muddy bog. While this bit of gamesmanship seems quaint in the context of a James Bond-era rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants it would likely seem out of place in today's game when a fleet of groundskeepers patrol the infield of each field at regular intervals throughout each contest. At least, that's what I used to think.

Entering last night's game in Atlanta, New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes has been playing at a level that has sent the opposition scrambling to the scrapbook for answers. To counter the effervescent, dreadlocked speedster, who has been indomitable at the plate and relentless on the basepaths, the Braves allegedly soaked down the infield just like teams used to do when Wills was coming to town.

After leading off the game with a single, Reyes slipped rounding first. He would struggle with his footing as Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens repeatedly attempted to pick him off. Perhaps out of spite or perhaps because he can't help himself, Reyes took off for second base all the same. He would slide in safely and soon come around to score on a Carlos Beltran single to center. The hit, steal and run that sprung from that first at-bat was the opening salvo in a 3-hit, 2-steal, 2-run and 1-RBI night. With his Major League–best 34th multi-hit game on the ledger, Reyes continues to rate near the top of the game in nearly every offensive category other than home runs.

While the wet track bothered the umpire and was the subject of an official complaint by the Mets' front office, Reyes took the challenge in stride. "It was a little wet," he told reporters after the game. "I don't know if they did that on purpose. ... I don't care if it's wet or not, I'm going to try to steal anyway."

Golaazzzzo!

During the pregame coverage of last night's opening round Gold Cup match between the United States and Guadeloupe, it seemed an inconvenience that DirecTV does not include Fox Soccer Channel in whatever basic cable package they beam onto my home via satellite. One the game kicked off, though, I hardly noticed the difference. My latent Spanish-speaking skills, honed over four years of high school and two of college, kept me vaguely aware of the commentary while the excellent HD picture and camera work of Telefutura really impressed.

When US forward Jozy Altidore launched a right-footed rocket in the top-corner of the Guadeloupe goal from distance there was no doubting that this Spanish-language station would be my Gold Cup channel of choice from here on out.



Altidore's second stellar score of the tournament provided the the only positive takeaway from a 1-0 victory that managed to be dispiriting while still sending the US Men's National team through into the second round.

Putting aside the point blank chance that US goalkeeper Tim Howard and virtually every member of the team yielded on an early corner kick, this game was marked by indefensible (and therefore easily defensed) misses by US players in front of goal, notably Clint Dempsey's lackadaisical squandering of a silver platter chance that could have killed off the game deep into the second half.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Promises in Flesh and Bravado

Just a few weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of basketball superstar LeBron James announcing that he would be taking his wealth of physical talents to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the 2011 NBA Finals concluded on the floor of American Airlines Arena in Miami. An impromptu stage was quickly erected by arena employees and NBA staff amidst the on-court celebration that erupted as the final whistle ended the championship series after six games. Delighted fans remained in the building, some crowding down into the lower bowl, to watch the trophy presentation. They cheered exuberantly as a team was awarded the Larry O'Brien Trophy by NBA Commissioner David Stern.

It was just the sort of scene that LBJ, Wade and Bosh had promised to a crowd of fans, many of whom were wearing freshly purchased Heat gear, when the trio was introduced in that arena shortly after all the contracts were signed last summer.



In his first public performance in a Heat jersey, James informed that crowd that he and his teammates would win several championships.

Well, one season down, one celebration on that same floor in Miami. Yes They Did?

False. It was, of course, the visiting Dallas Mavericks winning the championship in Miami. It was the Mavs' players, coaches and front office personnel being herded onto that makeshift stage on that floor in Miami. It was the vocal and shockingly large contingent of visiting Mavs fans that cheered from the stands (and likely found their seats in time for tip off) at American Airlines Arena, like so many road fans before them during the regular season. And it was Mark Cuban's team from Texas being presented with that championship trophy by his longtime foil, Commissioner Stern.

Back at that July 2010 pep rally turned title celebration, which occurred well before the new teammates had even soaked any of those jerseys the league was selling with a drop of sweat, the tag line was "Yes We Did." Past tense. James talked of the coming Heat dynasty like he'd traveled forward in time to 2015 and nabbed a copy of Gray's Sports Almanac. He reeled off the teams accomplishments as if they had already occurred. Past tense.

While the narcissistic Decision soured the public on James and his near-sighted retinue of overmatched courtiers, it was the self-congratulatory nature of the "Yes We Did" party that transferred all the LBJ hostility to the team as a whole. Who did they think they were? And did they really think that they could go take a shortcut to the championship that had eluded all-time greats like Patrick Ewing, Elgin Baylor and Charles Barkley?

Perhaps the sporting public was so offended by the pompous predictions because it actually seemed possible that this team - one that featured two of the top five players in the game (and a Bosh) - could laugh and backslap and fastbreak ally-oop its way to the top without the pain and turbulence that writers and fans want in their sporting dramas. And, to hear James explain it, the formation of the South Beach SuperFriends was going to remove the drama from the season altogether.

Now, I presume that the oligarchs of the Heat weren't the only NBA players confident that they were going to win a championship. I have no doubt that Kobe Bryant thought his Lakers were going to send Phil Jackson off into retirement with another three-peat. In Boston, Kevin Garnett likely believed that he'd scowl and curse and crotch punch his way to a second ring. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may have been convinced that the Oklahoma City Thunder were ready to ascend to the top of the heap as well.

But none of these men were counting off the titles that they claimed to be poised to win with a jovial self assurance that made their successes sound imminent and inevitable. Or, at least, if any other All-Stars were claiming that their winning the title was a fait accompli then they were doing it behind closed doors.

Behind several sets of closed doors, there was one player who did something that was in its own way every bit as brash as the Heat's Premature Title Elation. Shortly before the 2010-11 season began, during a preseason team-only gathering at teammate Deshawn Stevenson's house, Mavericks' sixth man Jason Terry had the Larry O'Brien Trophy tattooed on his arm.


While James chose to televise seemingly every aspect of his transition to Heat and the subsequent fanfare, most basketball fans managed not to learn about the ink on Terry's shooting arm until just the other day. And the first time that we heard about that tat was quickly followed by the time we heard the news that he'd admitted he would likely have it removed if Dallas didn't win it all.

The news that Terry could be subjecting himself to the pain of tattoo removal (in which they essentially "remove" it by burning it off and covering it with scar tissue) reminded me of the time when my brothers and I all got our first tattoos together. As we were discussing how the two older siblings would be paying for the youngest, I cautioned, "It's one thing to have tattoo money, but it's something else entirely to have tattoo removal money."

Of all the differences between the Mavericks and the Heat, the ways in which they went about stating their goals for the season may be the most representative. While LBJ boasted publicly and arrogantly about NBA titles as if they were appointments to be kept rather than accomplishments, Terry's tattoo pain was aspirational and came with consequences. He wanted that title so badly, having come up short in 2006. That tattoo was also inspirational to his collected teammates, most of whom know how painful and permanent a tattoo is.

Yeah, Terry's move was over the top, too. Pretty crazy, actually. But it was altogether different. Because it was private. And because the risks were always part of it. Regret and embarrassment loomed larger for Terry than they likely ever have for the self-anointed King James. He admitted that he was going to have that tattoo removed if his team lost, while LeBron's postgame comments about not hanging his head and that shot he took at the lives of the folks rooting against him made it pretty clear that he's not reevaluating much or accepting any consequences from his actions.

Terry's tattoo was a challenge to himself and to everyone in his locker room that they would experience every day. In the present tense. While the Heat were left wondering why that they had already "YES WE DID" never happened in the first place.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Boy Who Would Be Kingman

With New York Metropolitans patriarch Fred Wilpon bringing down a media firestorm upon his team with his (harsh but admirably candid and exasperated) comments to New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, the team has found another story to, temporarily, take over the back pages of the tabloids: According to everyone, the cash-strapped Wilpons have sold a minority stake in the team for $200 million.

I'm not sure if this is the beginning of the end of the Wilpon's stewardship of the franchise or if it's the move that keeps them afloat until the Madoff mess can be settled. Regardless, for the first time in a longtime someone else owns a substantial piece of the Mets (the deal does not include SNY). That person is David Einhorn.

Back when the financial world was collapsing around in 2008, he famously called out the Lehman Brothers for being on death's door (when they were still claiming to be healthy as a Bear Sterns horse. He was right. In any case, it seems he's got a tendency to speak his mind in high-profile situations about other high-profile folks or entities. In other words, he probably loved the New Yorker story.

Just as important as his business acumen to many of the paying customers is that Einhorn was a Mets fan when he was a kid. There has been a widely circulated shot of him dressed up as sometime Met slugger Dave Kingman.


A hedge fund manager, Einhorn made his fortune short selling. I keep my money in a jar beneath my bed so I'm not entirely sure what that means. But I do have suspicion that he may be banking on the Wilpons failing and being able to take over the team himself at a depressed price. Again, he should fit in fine around here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who Sang For Davey Moore?

Davey Moore's father was the pastor at the Jesus Only church in Urbania, Ohio. The Jesus Only church was a Pentecostal group asserting the primacy of Jesus at the expense of the Trinitarian theology that was - and continues - to be the norm in Christianity. Rather than baptising in the name of "The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," Moore's father put all his faith in the Son.

From April 1957 through in St. Patrick's Day 1960, the pastor's son certainly seemed infallible. He ran off an 18-fight undefeated streak as a boxer, picking up the Featherweight world title along the way by upsetting Hogan "Kid" Bassey in March 1959 in Los Angeles.

Just five decisions into his win streak in early 1958, Moore was described by Sports Illustrated boxing scribe Gilbert Rogin, in not entirely complimentary fashion, as “a chunky, clubfighter who punches solidly but does not always maintain the pace.” By the time he defeated Bassey the following year, Moore's profile had risen and his notices were much more favorable. Dubbed "the Springfield Rifle" for his place of residence and for his bullet-strong punches, boxing writers and fans gravitated toward Moore, the rare American excelling in the Featherweight division, where fighters cannot weigh more than 126 pounds.

During Moore's career, the division was populated mostly by Hispanic and European fighters. Bassey hailed from Nigeria, and was the country's first boxing champion. The polyglot composition of the Featherweight ranks had Moore traveling the world to find fights. Not one to duck an opponent, Moore had unseated Bassey with infected tonsils and a 101 degree fever. After granting Bassey a chance to regain the top spot in the Featherweight division, Moore successfully defended his title an additional four times (while taking and winning many non-title bouts along the way).

Moore won a title decision over Kazuo Takayama in Tokyo in 1960. He then knocked out Danny Valdez in the first round in Mexico to keep the crown in April 1960 in Los Angeles and before winning a unanimous decision over Takayama in a return to Tokyo later that year to keep the world title. After a pummeling left-right combination to the jaw left Takayama essentially out on his feet in the thirteenth, Moore eased up in the last two rounds with the triumph assured and his foe visibly dazed. In August 1962, Moore again put his championship on the line against Olli Maki in Helsinki, Finland (where he had participated in the 1952 Olympics). He stopped Maki by TKO with three knockdowns in the second round.

By the time that the 29-year-old Moore climbed through the ropes of the ring situated above the pitcher's mound at Dodger Stadium on March 21, 1963, he had amassed a career record of 59-6-1. The WBC and the WBA Featherweight titles were on the line back in Los Angeles as were world titles in two other weight classes. It was big night for boxing in one of America's newest sporting venues, which had opened up less than a year earlier in Chavez Ravine. The opening fight paired welterweight champ Emile Griffith against No. 1 contender Luis Rodriguez. Griffith had regained that title a year earlier in a match at Madison Square Garden in which he inflicted mortal injuries on his opponent, Benny Paret. The death of a prominent fighter in a prominent fight that was televised nationally on NBC brought down a firestorm of criticism on the sport, with many seeking to ban it altogether.


In the opening match of the tripleheader, Rodriguez relieved Griffith of the welterweight crown, to the delight of the largely Spanish-speaking crowd, some of whom were likely displaced as the Dodgers bought out Chavez Ravine residents in advance of building their new home. Up next, Moore and Ultimo "Sugar" Ramos, a Cuban fighter by way of Mexico, took center stage.


The 21-year-old challenger started timidly against the established champion but grew into the match to the delight of the partisan crowd. Moore rocked his younger pursuer in the second round with a combination of punches but the crowds chants of RA-MOS, RA-MOS seemed to keep his feet beneath him. Thanks to a rapid-fire left jab, Ramos loosened several of Moore's teeth and shattered his mouth guard. For his part, Moore's right hand would pummel Ramos, swelling one of his eyes. Ramos' assault culminated in the 10th round, when series of upper cuts forced Moore across the mat to the ropes on the center-field side of the ring. Once his retreat route was hemmed in by the ropes, Ramos landed a left hook that knocked Moore to the seat of his shorts. As he fell, his head snapped back against the lower rope. Referee George Latka quickly approached Moore and began his 10-count. The battered but proud champ was up by the time Latka reached three. He returned to his corner after the bell sounded the conclusion of the 10th round. Before the 11th began, Moore's manager Willie Ketchum signaled that his fighter was done for the night.

Fully under his own power, Moore trudged to his locker room, where he chatted amiably with the press. Aside from a bloodshot left eye, he hardly looked like a man who'd had to throw in the towel a full five rounds before the fight was scheduled to be over. Defeated but not deflated, Moore told reporters "I'll take the rematch, you better believe it. Look, you guys know that when I'm right nothing gets to me. Not nothing. I was off. That's it. plain and simple."

Moore would go on to laugh and joke with reporters: "Just like you writers, if you'd only admit it. Can't write a lick some days. Well, that was me tonight. I just wasn't up to my best."

To the press, the 5-foot-2 Moore may have sounded like an aging fighter trying to explain away his inevitable decline like so many fighters before and since. After all, Father Time remains undefeated in all weight classes. When those reporters rushed back to their ringside seats for the third bout of the evening, they may not have believed that Moore would regain his belt from Ramos, but they likely believed that they would be there to see him try. And they certainly didn't expect that he was about to die.

Shortly after Moore was left alone with Ketchum and sparring partner Ronnie Wilson, he began experiencing sharp headaches. He called for his manager. Moments later, he collapsed into a coma. Seventy-five hours after the fight he was dead at White Memorial Hospital. The cause of death was massive trauma to the brain stem, presumably suffered when the back of his head hit the bottom the rope in the 10th round.

California Governor Pat Brown seized on Moore's death to (again) call for the abolition of boxing. Even the Pope spoke out, proclaiming the sweet science was "contrary to natural principles." Of course, most people were convinced that boxing was actually too close to the sort of base and violent natural principles that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes laid out in Leviathan. One of the voices that rang out in the aftermath of Moore's death belonged to a young folk singer named Bob Dylan, who wrote and performed a song entitled "Who Killed Davey Moore?"

The song was never on any of Dylan's officially released albums during the 1960s but was an occasional part of his live act. When introducing it to a crowd in New York on Halloween 1964, Dylan, in prototypical ironic fashion, said:

"This a song about a boxer...
It's got nothing to do with boxing, it's just a song about a boxer really.
And, uh, it's not even having to do with a boxer, really.
It's got nothing to do with nothing.
But I fit all these words together...
that's all...
It's taken directly from the newspapers,
Nothing's been changed...
Except for the words."

The prominence of topical songs during the 1950s and '60s and in Dylan's early folk/protest work made such a subject far less unusual than it might seem from the distance of nearly 50 years. Because other than Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine and now of The Nightwatchman, I can't fathom any serious contemporary musician devoting an entire song (and space in their setlist) to asking "Who Killed Dave Duerson?"

"Who Killed Davey Moore?" by Bob Dylan:

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not I,” says the referee
“Don’t point your finger at me
I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
An’ maybe kept him from his fate
But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure
At not gettin’ their money’s worth
It’s too bad he had to go
But there was a pressure on me too, you know
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not us,” says the angry crowd
Whose screams filled the arena loud
“It’s too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight
We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death
We just meant to see some sweat
There ain’t nothing wrong in that
It wasn’t us that made him fall
No, you can’t blame us at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says his manager
Puffing on a big cigar
“It’s hard to say, it’s hard to tell
I always thought that he was well
It’s too bad for his wife an’ kids he’s dead
But if he was sick, he should’ve said
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the gambling man
With his ticket stub still in his hand
“It wasn’t me that knocked him down
My hands never touched him none
I didn’t commit no ugly sin
Anyway, I put money on him to win
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the boxing writer
Pounding print on his old typewriter
Sayin’, “Boxing ain’t to blame
There’s just as much danger in a football game”
Sayin’, “Fistfighting is here to stay
It’s just the old American way
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist
Who came here from Cuba’s door
Where boxing ain’t allowed no more
“I hit him, yes, it’s true
But that’s what I am paid to do
Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill’
It was destiny, it was God’s will”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?


(Happy 70th birthday, Bob)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Mudita