Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday's Starting Five

1. Carlos Beltran. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The bases were loaded. Carlos Beltran steps up to the plate. He's batting from the left side with a right-handed reliever on the hill for the opposition. Sound familiar? Well, it should. Heck, even Beltran couldn't help but point out the ways in which this situation in last night's game against the Florida Marlins mirrored the final at-bat of Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals. In that at-bat Beltran stood, bat on shoulder, as the last pitch he would see until Spring Training dropped in (it was a curve ball) for a called third strike. This time Beltran unleashed one of this beautiful swings that makes you think of Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime and that enchanted fall of 2004 on the very first pitch that he saw and drove a grand slam deep into the right field stands. After looking listless for the duration of the contest, the Mets offense came to life with two outs and two strikes on Luis Castillo in the top of the ninth. From there they loaded the bases (hits by Castillo and Wright and Delgado was hit by a pitch) for Beltran. Mets win, 5-4.

2. Daniel Murphy. After coming up HUGE in the second game of this week's abbreviated series in Philly, (a run-scoring double after Lidge intentionally walked Schneider to face him), Murphy made a more subtle game-saving play last night against the Marlins. It was the bottom of the ninth. The Mets had taken the lead on Beltran's grand slam but closer Luis Ayala was threatening to give it all back to the Marlins. Base runners were on first and third and the Mets were clinging to their newfound lead, 5-3. Jorge Cantu was up at bat, representing the go-ahead run. The Marlins makeshift first baseman cracked a long home-run distance drive that hooked just foul down the left field line. A few pitches later he kept a lower drive fair down the left field line. The runners had been going from the pitch and Murphy sprinted for the ball as it was heading to the corner. The runner from third scored without a play. Murphy cut the ball off and a threw to the cutoff man without coming to a complete stop, his momentum still carrying him into foul territory and toward the stands. The ball got back into the infield and the speedy pinch-runner who had been off running from first was held at third. And, the Mets still held a one-run lead. Ayala would manage to close the door on the Marlins shortly thereafter and Murphy's hustle had kept the Mets ahead.

3. Xavi. Hot on the heels of being named the top player in the Euro 08 tournament and hoisting the trophy with his Spanish countrymen, Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez has reportedly been offered a lifetime contract from the Catalan club. He's 28-years old and has been with the club since debuting in the youth ranks in 1991. He's already played for Barcelona over 400 times in his career and ranks third in games-played in the club record books.

4. College Football. It started on Thursday night? I don't know if I'm ready. Ok. Now, I'm ready. And, debating signing up for ESPNU.

5. BAM. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, the country's oldest continuously operating performing arts center, is hosting a four-film retrospective of the legendary cult films of John Carpenter. First up on Monday night is Big Trouble in Little China. Next up is horror classic The Thing on Tuesday night. Wonderfully shocking is the the movie for the next night, They Live featuring zombies, an indictment of Regan-era America and professional wrestlers trying to act for real. The closing stanza of this epic poem is Escape From New York , starring the Carpenter-muse Kurt Russell. After you get your fill of BBQ and swimming pools over the long weekend you should get yourself to Brooklyn for some Lo-Pan and Rowdy, Rowdy Piper.

Friday, August 29, 2008

And, the Son of (the) Man Shall Be Our Savior...Or, He Shall Come Off Our Bench

Knicks Acquire Patrick Ewing, Jr.

In a very welcome and very surprising move, the New York Knickerbockers have acquired the son of the greatest (or second or third greatest depending on who you ask) player ever to tread the boards for the home team in franchise history. The offspring of soon to be Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing was picked up from the Houston Rockets today in exchange for, and you won't believe it, the rights to the 1999 draft pick and forever draft-joke Frederic Weiss of France. Not only is this the greatest-possible karmic move ever considering the way last the Ewing we had left town (traded to Seattle rather than given a one-year deal and being allowed to retire as a lifelong Knick) and the unmitigated disaster that was the drafting of Weiss with the 15th pick in '99, but I think that it also makes sense both on and off the court.

Ewing Jr. was drafted by the Sacramento Kings with the 43rd pick in this year's draft after being named the Big East Sixth Man of the Year during his final year at Georgetown University. He was then part of the Ron Artest deal and found himself traded to Houston, where he was unlikely to find a spot in the rotation due to a glut of forwards. In a strange, and I guess meaningless side note, Jr. was also drafted with the top overall pick (in their own private draft) by the Harlem Globetrotters in July. The 6-foot, 8-inch Ewing Jr. is as athletic as they come (which is why the Globetrotters were so high on him) and nearly as a hard a worker. Growing up in his father's large shadow he seems to have learned from an early age to know his place and find his role. Unlike most uber-gifted athletes he doesn't have a history of getting ahead of himself or trying or do too much. He plays like a guy who is at the office rather than a guy who thinks he's too good to have to work. Having grown up around professional athletes and seeing his father encased in ice after every game in the final third of his career he knows what happens when the flashbulbs aren't popping and how much grit and determination it does take to play in the Association.

All of that being said, he received one of only two perfect scores at the 2008 College Slam Dunk Championship and is a guy who I really thought was as a nice late sleeper pick as the draft was approaching. He's a role player. And, he knows it. In fact, he embraces it. This a rare thing these days and I think that mentality puts him ahead of a lot of young players who waste their early careers trying to become a star instead of just trying to take the smaller opportunities being offered them. Aside from the fact that I think Jr. has a chance to be a legit contributor on an NBA roster as an on-the-ball defender, the guy who pushes the vets and the starters in practice (which can't really be taken for granted), and an energizer off the bench, this move shows that new GM Donnie Walsh and new coach Mike D'Antoni get it.

This move shows that they already better understand what it is to be a part of this organization than their predecessor ever did. Under Isiah Thomas there was no effort to make connections to franchise history beyond the league-mandated and financially-driven occasional wearing of throw-back jerseys every few weeks. Thomas wasn't making overtures to former players (or their kids) and there was a night when Charles Oakley was sitting courtside and never even appeared on the big screen above the court for fans to see him in the house. Obviously I don't think Thomas was running the in-house video display that night - after all, he was barely running the team on the court - but that sort of disregard for the fans and the Knicks past was indicative of the cult of personality that Thomas was hoping to build. He didn't want to be upstaged by guys with the last names like Ewing or Oakley or Starks or Frazier or Reed. He wanted this to be his show all the way. And, ultimately it was. Right up until the point when that show was cancelled for being utterly unwatchable.

Walsh and D'Antoni know that even if Jr. ends up not sticking on the roster past this season or if he really can't crack the rotation that the goodwill boost alone is worth it. They will get credit for trying this. And, the first time the Garden PA announcer hollers "Two points, Paaaa-trick EWWWWWing" the fans will go absolutely wild. I know I will.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Does Dr. Harvey Mandrake Work For the Chargers?

In Oliver Stone's gridiron film Any Given Sunday there is a crooked and amoral team doctor, played by the one, the only James Woods, who will patch up/drug up injured players to keep them on the field. He does this with no regard for their health and with the total support of the organization, the fictional Miami Sharks. You could say, that he doesn't care what happens to the players come Monday. Only how they perform on that particular given Sunday. According to Wikipedia (is it responsible or irresponsible to actually source Wikipedia?), Woods' character, Dr. Harvery Mandrake, was based on long-time Oakland Raiders team doc Robert Rosenfeld. Another employee on the same Raiders medical staff, Dr. Robert Huzienga, wrote a book Your Okay, It's Just A Bruise chronicling what he thought were the dangerous practices of Rosenfeld and the ways in which Raiders chieftain Al Davis condoned, if not demanded, them.

Even a former player who has no broken bones about that way Rosenfeld sent players out on the field acknowledges the same sort of dubious medical treatment:
"After your first day of training camp, there is never another day that goes by without something being wrong with you physically. The guys that could play injured. The guys that could play injured were kept around for a long time... Dr. Rosenfeld was a great guy for getting you back on the field with surgery. there were a lot of pills available to us that helped get us back on the field. I saw a lot of guys play injured, and I was one of them. But I never saw a guy play injured that didn't want to. This doctor who wrote the book - and I wouldn't even read it - is probably one of these guys that didn't belong in the Raiders organization." -Phil Villapiano, Raiders linebacker from 1971-1979 as quoted in The Super 70s
Of course, it's no surprise that NFL players play hurt and that most of them would chose to play hurt rather than not play. Nor is it a surprise that this guy is avoiding reading books. It's also not a shock that the Any Given Sunday character is based, in part, on a real person and that such was the way of life a few decades ago in pro football. There are enough former players limping/wheeling around like Earl Campbell to know that health was a short-term proposition in those days.

Anyways, I have to think that either Wood's Mandrake or some other Rosenfeld disciple is working for the San Diego Chargers these days because I can't imagine how anyone not wired that way would really allow injured outside linebacker Shawne Merriman to play football this season with two torn ligaments in his left knee.Merriman has tears in both the posterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee. That is two of four ligaments shown in this wonderful artist's rendering of the insides of our knees. Two is too many torn ligaments for one knee.

It blows my mind that the Chargers are apparently allowing Merriman to decide if he plays or sits even though, according to ESPN, four out of four doctors agree that he needs knee surgery. I guess in the no-guaranteed-contract world of the NFL the Chargers can afford to send him out there and hope for the best, knowing that if the worst happens (he further injures his knee or something else because he is too slow or timid because of the knee) they have the ability to cut him. But even that run-of-the-mill NFL callousness doesn't make any sense given how young and talented Merriman is. He is 24 years old and has already been to three Pro Bowls. This is a guy that you should want to take care of. It's not like sending an older player, not long for the roster, out to play with a bad injury. This guy should be the future of the Chargers defense. Most of the team's other stars are young enough that they should be able to give it a go without Merriman on defense this season if that's what it takes to get him back healthy for the long haul.

I can see why Merriman himself would want to play. He likely thinks he is also impervious to bullets. And herpes. He is a football player who thinks he's stronger than fire and doesn't know any better. Moreover, he just watched his team's quarterback play in the 2007 AFC Championship Game with a torn ACL (another knee ligament that the higher-ups in San Diego were not overly concerned about). And, you know that a linebacker doesn't want to get out-toughed by a quarterback. Especially one named Phillip. So, I get it that the player wants to play. I just don't get it how someone with even the medical training of Dr. Nick can really be letting this happen. Maybe it's possible that Merriman is really, really fine. And that there is no way he can do further damage by playing. But I just don't see that and I don't get how organization can send him out there knowing that virtually every medical opinion that has been on the record says this kid needs surgery before playing football again. How can they explain this to their fans and the rest of the guys in the locker room if Merriman predictably gets further injured? And, who knows, if the Chargers did bench Merriman then they might find they're very own linebacking-version of Willie Beamen to lead them to the Panthean Cup.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. The Phillies Bullpen. Yeah, it was a heck of a game. The Mets looked dominant early. The Phillies looked powerful in the middle. And things were just flat-out strange late. Both Carlos Delgado and Ryan Howard made potentially game-saving defensive plays in extra innings. By the time the Mets were beaten I was so tired that it was almost a relief. Almost. But not quite. The fact I had given up hope during each of Aaron Heilman's three innings of work had me well onto the acceptance stage of grief by the time that Victorino crossed home plate with the winning run. The final story, however, features the Fightins relievers in the central role. After the Jamie Moyer got roughed up by the Metropolitans early in the contest, those fellows who trotted in from just below the standing-room section in right-center field limited the visiting team to just 1 run over 10 innings. And that run? It came in the fourth inning of a game that eventually went 13 frames. So the Mets were essentially shut out over a regulation nine-inning affair by Clay Condrey, Scott Eyre, Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madsen, JC Romero and Rudy Seanez. That last guy actually played with Keith Hernandez in Cleveland before No. 17 hung up his cleats. Yet he and his rag-tag group (Eyre was recently discarded by the Cubs, Romero was dumped by the Red Sox last season) did exactly what they needed to do to get there side a big, big, bigger win.

2. Instant Replay. After a solid and seemingly rigid resistance, Major League Baseball has worked shockingly quick to institute instant replay on "boundary calls" starting Thursday. The reviewable things will be homer-related. Was the home run fair/foul? Was it really out (most important in those asinine parks with the line on the wall separating in-play from home run)? Was it touched by a fan? In other words, there will be no more Jeffrey Maier moments in October. For one, I think this is great. A home run should be a home run. I have no interest in seeing the game have the tape used for fair/foul on balls hit down the line or for bang-bang plays at a base. Or, least of all balls and strikes. The human element can stay in those places because it is integral to those moments. That's why there are rules like, Tie goes to the runner. That "tie" is based on the human perception of the events rather than the absolute micro-second, frame-by-frame analysis of what arrived first. The human element is part of the game. However, there should be no human element in a home run. That is an absolute entity.

3. The CC for Cy Campaign. Although Big Pelf may become my darkhorse candidate if he keeps it up, WWOD? is currently touting CC Sabathia for the NL Cy Young. And, perhaps (not) following my lead, is Steve Aschburner over at Sports Illustrated. The heftiest lefty is currently 8-0 in ten starts since arriving in Milwaukee and would be become the first player ever to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards in both leagues.

4. Fantasy Football Drafts. Most of them are done. I had my first one last night. My girlfriend's league had theirs last week. My "main" league doesn't even know if we're using Yahoo or yet. But, then again, we particularly bad at things involving organization or following through. Nevertheless, it doesn't really get too much better than digging into a good Fantasy Football draft. The drunkeness, the single-minded focus on something with no bearing on our real lives. The drunkeness. It's just a great end-of-summer rite. Few things really make a sports fan realize that Fall is really around the corner, that the smell of burnt leaves and the taste of tailgate food is on the way.

5. Michael Strahan. Maybe the story got ahead of him a little bit, with his financial requirements for returning to the New York Football Giants as well documented Osi's knee injury. Or, maybe he was actually savvy enough to know that there was zero chance he would be able to write a better ending to his playing career then he already did and that sort of personal narrative is worth more than eight million dollars as he embarks on his secondary and tertiary careers. Either way, I applaud the great-gap-toothed pass rusher for staying on the sidelines this season. Of course, the Giants were going to reach out to him after the Pro-Bowl defensive end went down. Of course, FOX Sports was going to say that he could do as he wished and they'd keep his seat warm. This was all on Strahan (and whomever it is he actually listens to) and they made the right call.

Benched. The Mets late-game offense. Although, I guess I can't really bench the Mets late-game offense since it doesn't actually exist. It would be like benching Bigfoot. Or my health insurance.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Last Week In Sports

In Order to Make Up For Being MIA (and not in the good Paper Planes sort of way) All of Last Week, WWOD? Is Offering Up This 25-Item Blowout/Starting Five From the Week I Missed

1. Big Pelf. Last Tuesday night was a Big Night for the Big Guy, as he went the distance to notch his first career complete game. It was a 3-hit victory against the Atlanta Braves, to boot. The 6-foot-7-inch 24-year-old sinker-baller had won 10 of his last 12 decisions going into last night's start against the Astros (which we'll get to in a bit). Not only was his nine-inning performance a much-needed salve for a shaky Wagner-less bullpen but it was a long, long time coming (sort of like this post) for Mets fans. We've been hearing about the wonder that is the Big Pelf ever since he was taken by the Metropolitans with the 9th overall pick in the 2005 amateur draft. And, it was widely known that he would have gone higher in the draft had the young fireballer from Wichita State not selected a certain Scott Boras as his agent. He was to be the next big thing and the first Big Pelf. Yet it was still the same old song and dance from the brass in Flushing. Us fans have seen a few pitching prospects come and go, fizzle more than sizzle over the years and up until recently (remember that 0-7 record over much of last season?) it looked like Mike P was going to be another disappointment to add the list of Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson. Of course, that would be a very different class of disappointment from Scott Kazmir, who turned out to be every bit the potential ace that we were told he would be. He just happened to be that person while playing for Tampa Bay, after he was unloaded in the most short-sighted trade I've probably seen in my tenure as a NY sports fan. So, it's been a long time coming for a top pitching prospect to reach the Big Leagues (in our uniform) and really dominate. (Ed Note: And, remember, more to follow on Pelfrey's second straight complete game)

2. In-Season Baseball Traders. To the active go the spoils. Or at least, a chance at the spoils. As the dog days of summer segue to the tense days of the home stretch, the teams still in contention have almost uniformly been the ones who were active in the trade market this season. The Dodgers have been enervated by the addition of Manny Ramirez, while their NL West foe the D-backs have countered with the addition of Adam Dunn's big bat (and the big holes in his swing). In the AL West the Angels added first baseman Mark Tiexiera to an already rolling-along team. The NL Central death waltz between Milwaukee and Chicago has been buoyed by the entrance of pitchers Rich Harden and CC Sabathia just as the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have tried to keep alive their hopes of catching the AL East leading Rays by adding Jason Bay and Pudge Rodriguez, respectively, to their rosters. The Phillies landed workhorse pitcher Joe Blanton to try to compete with the Mets starting rotation while those same Metsies traded for beleaguered reliever Luis Ayala in hopes of out-mediocring themselves.

3. Rental Car Ralliers. Hundreds of miles. Scores of dirt roads. Dozens of racers. Liters of taurine infused beverages. Handfuls of speeding tickets. Five predetermined checkpoints. And one international border crossing. The first annual Rental Car Rally took place last weekend as varyingly bedecked drivers and their crews took off from Long Island City in Queens for the Canadian hinterlands. Actually, they departed for the very modern and attractive city of Montreal. The ralliers motored through the evening and made their way through peaceful hamlets in upstate New York with the care, precision and recklessness of Vikings cross-bred with Jehovah's Witnesses. It was a site to behold. And to call the police about. By all accounts there were no fatalities and with one exception it is believed that there were no serious problems crossing the borders (well, apparently the one team who had their car tricked out a like a cop car had their ride entirely taken apart). The winners walked, drove, away on Sunday with a thousand dollars in cash in a briefcase.

4. Usain Bolt. Remember when these Olympics belonged to Baltimore native and distant relative of the Mariner, Michael Phelps? Sort of. But the man of the Games' last week was Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter won three gold medals (in three tries) and set three world records. First off, he broke Michael Johnson's purportedly unbreakable record in the 100m final en route to gold. Up next, he left the field shockingly far back as he won the 200m in world record time. This double win made Bolt the first man since the advent of electronic timing to hold both sprint records simultaneously. Last but not least, Bolt was part of the Jamaican 4x100m relay team that won the gold, again in world record time. The best part? Bolt is just 22 years old and figures to compete in London four years down the line.

5. Johan Santana. The weekend before he took the mound for the Mets, and tossed a complete game shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates. When he toed the rubber this past Friday night, the Mets ace was facing off against former Minor League teammate (Johan started off in the Astros farm system before being dealt to Minnesota) Roy Oswalt. The matchup of aces did not disappoint. Johan, though he threw a lot of pitches, held the Astros in check through seven innings of shutout ball. Even though he had broken the 100-pitch barrier during the sixth inning Johan pleaded his case with Mets Manager/Gangster Jerry Manuel and took the hill again in the seventh to much excitement at Shea. The Metropolitans are 6-2 in his starts since the All-Star break while the Venezuelan-born hurler sports a 2.50 ERA over that span.

6. The Polish Women's Volleyball Team. It's true that they didn't make it out of Group A and lost more matches (4) than they didn't (1) but, these ladies should head back to Poland knowing that they won my heart. I'll never forget you, Glinka. Thanks for the memories.

7. US Women's Soccer Team, specifically goalie Hope Solo. They arrived in Beijing pegged as no better than a bronze medalist and yet it was Uncle Sam's gals with the top spot on the podium when the Olympic soccer tournament was concluded. Not only did the US shock the world but they knocked off Brazil to do it. If you recall the US bowed out of the semifinals at the last World Cup to Brazil after the squad's then-coach opted for a veteran keeper over the young Solo. Apparently not shy, Solo blasted the decision and claimed she would have been the difference. Well, she played this time and the US defeated Brazil. Enough said.

8. Japanese Women's Softball Team. In what was potentially the last softball game ever to be contested at an Olympiad, the Japanese women stunned the softballing world by defeating the United States, 3-1. The US women hadn't been defeated on the diamond since 2000 and had won every gold medal awarded in the sport's history. They were the team whose dominance was a main reason that the sport was being dropped from the Olympic docket. The gold-medal game was supposed to be a formality. Apparently, though, nobody told Japanese pitcher Yukiko Ueno, who dominated the previously indomitable US lineup. No doubt, this is the "Miracle on Ice" moment for the ladies-softball set, with our team playing the role of the big, bad Ruskies. Since I don't know enough about women's softball and didn't see more (or less) than one inning of play during the Games, I can't begin to say whether or not the US choked but I can say without a doubt that this had to be as devastating a loss as possible for this group. They were coming into the games for perhaps the last time (although many groups are lobbying to have softball back in the games eventually) with what was considered to be the greatest team ever assembled. The games in Beijing were supposed to be the crowning moments of these players careers. Yet it was a shock loss from which there may be no bounce-back opportunity.

9. Mike D'Antoni. While in Beijing as an assistant coach on the US Men's Hoops team (no doubt making inroads with future Knickerbockers Lebron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade) there was something, according to The Post that annoyed him. It was the fact that his cache of superstar pupils would snicker whenever his new ballclub came up in conversation. "I don't like that much. It really ticks me off," he said. I love everything about this story. I love that D'Antoni admitted, by default, that the Knicks are considered a joke, which is something that his smiling, always smiling, predecessor never would have done. I also like that he takes such things personally and understands that part of his job is going to be changing the reputation of this team amongst the players in the league. And, I don't doubt that he is the right man for the job. And, neither does Kobe Bryant, who said, "I think you've got a long list of players that want to play for him, I'll tell you that, ... He's just incredibly sharp. He's a brilliant, brilliant basketball mind. He's going to bring a system and now you just have to find players to plug into that system."

10. Jets Fans attending training camp at Hofstra University. After forty years of Augusts out on Strong Island the Jets held their last open practice at Hoftsra facilities in Hempstead last Tuesday. The team has called that place home since its inception but will be moving their HQ to Florham Park, NJ. No doubt, LI residents were sad to see the team go as camp at Hofstra was the place to be for many during the summer months. Unlike most clubs who travel to relatively out of the way places (the Giants head up to Albany) for preseason, the Jets always stayed close to home giving season-ticket holders and local fans a chance to see their heroes up close. You can only hope that the access will be the same at the NJ facility.

11. Samir Nasri. The latest next-big-thing plucked from relative obscurity by Arsenal, made good in his Premeirship debuting, scoring the lone goal in ill-bodingly cagey win over top flight newcomers (they were promoted after winning the Championship division last season) West Brom.

12. The Suddenly Fan-Friendly New York Knickerbockers. Not only did they host an open-house for potential (in other words, anyone) season-ticket buyers with free food and a chance to meet Walt Frazier and David Lee but last week the club invited fans out to buy merchandise that was marked down by as much as 90% from the retail price at the once-a-year employees-only sale. Starting with the free grub on Fan Appreciation Night (the final home game of last season) everything about the organization under Donnie Walsh has been markedly improved. Yes, they still want my money. But they are at least being nice about it.

13. Disgruntled Former Seattle Sonics Season Ticket Holders. A handful of folks who had held season tickets in the Emerald City for the Sonics have filed a lawsuit against Clay Bennett and his Oklahoma City ballclub in hopes of exacting at least one pound of flesh from the nefarious businessman who stole their home team. The season-ticket-holders are looking for not only the right to buy tickets at the new OKC Arena with their paid-for priority seating privilege, but to also have a judge refund any money that would be incurred flying from Seattle to Oklahoma City to attend games. I can't imagine that this lawsuit pans out but it would be pretty awesome if it did. Not only would I love for the prime season ticket spots to be empty in Oklahoma City night after night but it would it would be even better to see them full up and realize that the turncoat owners of this ill-gotten team had actually paid to fly out fans from Seattle.

14. The Barcelona Party Scene. Although it was still the end of an era at the Camp Nou when Ronaldinho departed Barcelona for Milan, the party can still go on, at least during the offseason. Renowned Barca party fixture (and footballer) Ronaldinho has bought himself a home in the Catalan capital and plans to spend much of his free time there (as well as in his native Brazil) when he is not in season with AC Milan. I can't imagine that his new employers in Italy are too thrilled about the prospect of the star acquisition spending his free time in the same places where he partied himself from the world's best player to an out-of-shape underachiever in less than 18 months.

15. Mike Hampton. The 2000 NLCS MVP, 5-time Silver Slugger and 2-time All-Star actually resumed pitching recently after not throwing a Big League frame since 2005. And, surprisingly he's turned in 3 quality starts in his last four outings.

16. Matt Stover. Over at the World Wide Leader there was recently a poll conducted in which NFL fans were asked to "select the greatest player for every NFL franchise." Fans were provided with a few options and a brief statement about each player's qualifications for such a lofty title. Joe Montana was tapped for the 49ers, Reggie White for the Iggles. Jim Brown for the Browns. And for the Baltimore Ravens? Was it Ray Lewis, the Super Bowl XXXV MVP and Ravens all-time leader in tackles? Nope. Was it Jamal Lewis, the franchise's all-time leading rusher with 7,801 yards and 45 touchdowns? He finished fourth. Was it big, bad Jonathan Ogden, who went to 11 Pro Bowls? Not even close. The runaway winner was place kicker Matt Stover who is the Ravens leader in points scored. The kicker won. And, he did so by a whopping margin, nabbing over 50% of the vote.

17. Those Inclined to Dislike A Certain Pinstriped Baseball Team With a Tendency Towards Self-Aggrandizement. The sky may actually be falling this time in the Bronx as the Yankees offense sputters more days than not and as the suddenly hot-seat-sitting Manager Joe Girardi sends out pitchers with names like Ponson and Rasner at least as frequently as he hands the ball to guys named Mussina or Pettitte. The Yanks are hovering between 9 and 10 games back of the AL East leading Rays and about half that back in the Wild Card race to the Red Sox. Of course, last year really, really also looked like the year that the pinstripers would miss the playoffs (for the first time since before the '94 strike) maybe it will be this last season at Yankee Stadium. Then again, the Bombers did just sweep the Orioles over the weekend. So, maybe not.

18. Frosted Flakes. After years of living in the less than grrrr-eat no-man's land between the Bran cereals and the full-on candy breakfasts, Frosted Flakes are making some power moves. The Flakes scored a coup when they inked Olympic uber-hero Michael Phelps to be their pitchman. Well, played. And, no doubt, well paid. Of course, there are those healthy do-gooders out in the world are a bit annoyed that Phelps eschewed Wheaties, Cheerios or any other more nutritious serial to sign on with Frosted Flakes. WWOD? tried to reach the swimmer for comment but he was too busy counting his money.

19. Chad Pennington and the rest of the Miami Dolphins. While the spotlights shine brightly on Long Island and New Jersey and wherever else in the New York metropolitan area that Jet Favre makes an appearance, Pennington and the rest of the Miami Dolphins have been getting ready for what they hope will be an improvement upon last year's 1-15 regular-season record. So far, so good. They've got two straight preseason victories and a lot more swagger since Chad has arrived in South Beach. In the words of Dolphins reporter/employee Andy Cohen: "Each time I see Chad Pennington, I am more convinced he is the perfect addition to this team. Accurate thrower. Calming influence. Poised veteran. Pennington appears in complete control of this offense only a few weeks after joining the Dolphins. You just know deep down that nothing would make him happier than beating his former Jets on opening day." I am an unapologetic Chad supporter and think he has still got some football left in him. He's essentially played injured since 2004 (the shoulder injuries and then played all of last year on a bad leg) but took the Jets to the playoffs twice in that span. I'm terrified about what he is going to do in the first game of the season when the Dolphins and J-E-T-S square off. The guy is smart and probably told Sporano and Parcells more about the Jets offense than even Mangini knows. Moreover, you just know that every Dolphin is going to want to win this one for their new teammate.

20. Mike & The Mad Dog. After 19 talkative years this famous radio duo has finally parted ways. Mike Francessa has stayed on at WFAN (660 AM on your radio dial) in the tandem's afternoon-drive time slot while the Chris "Mad Dog" Russo has made for the lucrative land of satellite radio. Although both radio personalities may actually have gotten their break from none other than the deposed and disgraced Don Imus they were an important part of the sports landscape in New York City. Their discussions and the calls they chose to take from fans shaped the debate and the controversies of their era. Surely many a manager and player had their life made fare more difficult by these two than almost anything that ever happened on the field (or court) of play.

21. The Professor and the Thin Beast. In the best men's beach volleyball performance I've seen since that brilliant summer of Zach Barnes and Monroe Clark, the US Men's pair of Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser won the gold medal in Beijing over an upstart side from Brazil. Rogers, and his freakish leaping ability and powerful goatee, was pulling the strings of all four players in the sand after a shaky start while the taller, beastlier, Dalhausser took over the competition down the stretch owning the net and rifling in some powerful sinking jump serves.

22. K-Rod. The hits saves keep on coming for the Angels closer. He just passed the 50 saves mark and has Bobby Thigpen's record of 57, set in 1990 with the Chicago White Sox, dead center in his bespectacled sights. Barring injury or a devastating loss of form it seems the Rodriguez is a lock to improve upon Thigpen's tally. Of course, with lots of people like me writing/saying things like this maybe the jinx is on.

23. Matt Ryan. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and the Iciest football player to come out of Boston College in some time, say a little over 20 years, has been moved up on the Atlanta Falcons depth chart and will be starting at the quarterback position when the regular season kicks off. Although he only had to leapfrog Chris Redman and Joey Harrington this move is not without a lot of hard work as the Falcons seemed, at first, committed to not starting Ryan until he was "ready." Well, whether it's the zillion dollars the club is paying him or his wise-beyond-his-years calm in the huddle, the Matty Ice Era is upon us.
Highlights from Ryan's Preseason Outing Against Tennessee

24. The US Men's Hoops Team. This test for USA Hoops was administered Pass/Fail. It was gold medal or bust in Beijing and Jerry Collangelo's revamped outfit passed the test with flying colors (flying red, white and blue to be precise). After defeating Spain in a hotly contested battle in the final, Lebron and Co. were awarded their gold medals. The takeaways from the tourney seem to be four things (to me): First, Jason Kidd has officially passed (or had taken from him) the torch to Chris Paul as the elite American point guard. Although Kidd did hold his starting spot, it wasn't until CP3 took the floor that the Redeem Team began hitting on all cylinders. It was nice and all that Kidd was allowed to keep starting but anyone who was watching knew what was up. The second takeaway was the reemergence of Dwyane Wade as one of the game's best. Coming off the bench with the verve and incisive play that made Shaq's team his team, Wade was an electric force in these Games. Unlike all of his last season (and seemingly too much of his short career), the former Marquette standout is healthy. If he can stay that way then you've got to factor the Heat into the Eastern Conference picture all over again. Third and fourth things-to-file-away were the fact that the US has not totally solved the international zone defensive schemes and is not yet as good as they can be when it comes to the different three-point stripe.

25. Luis Ayala. The newest steward on the Titantic or the finger in the dyke that saved the small town for certain doom? Well, the jury is still out on this but Ayala - recently dealt from the Washington Nationals to the New York Mets - is the newest member of the Mets bullpen. He had a nice outing in a save situation on Friday night to secure a win for Johan Santana. After three stelar seasons to begin his career, in which he went 70+ innings with a sub-3.00 ERA, things have taken a downturn for the Mexican right-hander over the past season and three quarters. He had made it clear to Nats management that he wanted to be traded. Mets GM Omar Minaya was familiar with him from their time together in Montreal and, keeping with his frightening strategy of stockpiling former Expos, brought Ayala to Flushing in exchange for second base prospect (all glove, no bat) Anderson Hernandez.

...about last week. Between heading out to Shea a few time to catch the once-surging Metropolitans and recovering from a auto race across international borders last week was lost over at WWOD?. I'll make it up to all of you this week. Starting in about an hour.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday's Starting Five

1. CC Sabathia kept on keeping last night for the Brew Crew as he won his 7th game since arriving in Milwaukee. He's undefeated in his eight starts (with one no-decision) and is making a move to win the Cy Young Award in consecutive years in different leagues. Which has never happened before. EVER. Pedro won the NL Cy Young in 1997 with the Expos and then the AL version with the Red Sox in 1999.

2. Watching Mike Phelps. His greatness has been accepted by all. The mass media and the American public has gotten comfortable with referring to him as the greatest athlete alive and debating whether or not he is the greatest Olympian ever. We expect him to win gold in his remaining three events. In this way, we're done with discovering and appreciating Mike Phelps. The only thing left to do is watch so that we can be a part of the Phelps phenomenon. His swims are events to say you saw less than they are competitions whose results we are interested in. After all, Phelps already won (us over). According to Variety, "roughly 40 million were tuned in during the 10 o'clock hour to watch Phelps capture the 200-meter butterfly and his 10th career Olympic gold medal" on Tuesday night. And that home-viewing audience went on to reach 41.2 million in the 11 o'clock half-hour, which featured Phelps' second gold of the night.

3. Mo Williams. It is true that the Milwaukee Bucks seem on the verge of mediocrity (which means playoffs in the East), excitement and watchability with the acquisition of Richard Jefferson, the drafting of Joe Alexander and the new-coach-bump that should come in Scott Skiles first few months on the gig. And, yet today is a great day for Mo Williams who is leaving the team as a part of three-team, six-player trade. Williams is joining the Lebronaliers and figures to be the much-needed fifth option (options 1-4 are Lebron) for a team that was in the Finals the season before last. Williams is a point guard (6.3 assists per game last season) who can score like a shooting guard (17.2 points per game last season) which means he is ideally suited for an offense where LBJ will be bringing the ball up the floor on a regular basis.

4. Daniel Murphy. During the 11 games that this 23-year old has played at the Big League level I have heard/read him compared to Robin Ventura, Tony Gwynn, Lance Berkman and Don Mattingly. And, thus far he hasn't done anything to take away from such heady comparisons. After going 3-for-6 and scoring twice last night in the Mets rout of the Nationals, Murphy is batting .467 (14-for-30) since being called up from Triple-A New Orleans on Aug. 2nd.

5. Andre Iguodala. After going out and unexpectedly snagging free agent Elton Brand from the Clippers earlier in the summer the 76ers front office turned its attention to the new AI. The 24-year old 6 foot 6 inch small forward-ish shooting guard has reportedly agreed to a six-year, $80 million deal with the Sixers. I don't know how good he actually will become. Is he just an exciting young leaper who can get to the rim or is he going to use that athleticism to mature into a great on-the-ball defender? I don't know. But the Sixers decided that they couldn't afford not to find out for themselves.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Michael Phelps. As someone who was raised watching basketball and football and soccer and baseball it is almost hard to allow for the existence of someone as gifted as Phelps. He is a swimmer and he appears to be one of the greatest athletes I've ever seen compete. In this day and age where athletic excellence is almost always directly connected to earning potential it doesn't quite seem "right" that a guy like Phelps is a swimmer. But he is and he is awesome. Last night he won his third gold medal of these Olympics in the 200 meter freestyle. He flat-out dominated the competition and led by a full body length as he came home on the last leg. The win tied Phelps with Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis for most golds with 9. He doesn't look to tied for long.

2. Aaron Rodgers. Last night he led the Green Bay Packers out onto a football field for game for the first time since the departure of Brett Favre. The Packers were truly his team for the first time last night when they matched up with the Cincinnati Bengals for a preseason edition of Monday Night Football. Rodgers was 9 for 15 for 117 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Not great. But not terrible. And, that's a victory for the time being. Still, any shot of the crowd revealed No. 4 jerseys and home-made signs thanking/missing the Hudson Riverboat Gambler. Rodgers faces a nearly impossible task. Not only does he have to replace Favre but in the win-now NFL he has to try to follow an appearance in the NFC championship game. Good luck.

3. Any Major League Baseball Player Facing A Member of the New York Mets Bullpen in a Late-and-Close Situation in a Regular-Season Baseball Game. They did it again yesterday afternoon. They blew another one. After Pedro Martinez threw his six solid innings and surrendered just a single run to the visiting Pirates, the bullpen combined to allow six runs in just three innings, including three in the ninth to seal the loss. All of sudden, Jerry Manuel might have a better idea of what Willie Randolph was dealing with down the stretch last season.

4. Adam Dunn & the Arizona Diamondbacks. Greeted with less fanfare than word of a potential Manny Ramirez haircut the other contender in the NL West just made a move for a slugging outfielder. Adam Dunn is tied for the Major League lead in home runs right now with 32 and he was able to get through waivers to the D-Backs. I'm not really sure how this happened. The knock on Dunn is that he strikes out too (currently 5th in the Bigs) much and that he is lost in the outfield. Ok. Maybe, but the guy is tied for the Big League lead in long balls, he walks enough to keep his on-base percentage respectable and, oh yeah, he hits a ton of home runs. I feel like the Dunn-trading-waivering market worked almost the exact opposite of the way the mediocre pitching market works in the offseason when all of a sudden the value of Kris Bensons and the Kyle Lohses of the world goes through the roof. Somehow the lemming-like marketplace devalued Dunn with the same enthusiasm. Yeah, he's a rental (his contract expires at season's end) but so what? A lot of players are rentals at the trading deadline. Either way, this is a potentially huge deal for an Arizona team that has the pitching to get to October but was having a hard time scoring runs.

5. Minnesota Twins. By beating the Yankees last night the Twins moved into first place in the AL Central. They've won 6 of 10 and are currently a half game ahead of the Chicago White Sox. The team that traded away the "best pitcher in baseball" Johan Santana is currently battling for a division crown? Yup. Looking very much like the A's from the first few years of the decade, when they continually shipped off "irreplaceable" players and still made the postseason, the Twins have joined the Marlins and the Rays as feel-good teams.

Benched. The Tampa Rays. They're still in first place but outfielder Carl Crawford and rookie third baseman Evan Longoria have both been placed on the Disabled List. Could this be the beginning of the end for our heroes? Will they survive the devastating DL? Will they live to fight another day? Stay tuned.

Monday, August 11, 2008

All Points (West) Bulletin: Best-Of (my) Photos

Images from a great, great weekend in Jersey City


Backstage before Girl Talk Set

(notice Greg's Starbury sneaks)

On stage during Girl Talk Set



Animal Collective

The Roots

Radiohead (again)

Ben Jelen
Matt Costa

Backstage Area

Super-Serious Guitar-Tech Guy
Cat Power

Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB