Thursday, October 29, 2009

Out of Blog Automated Reply

Sorry for the lack of updates on a excellently busy sports morning after. By hook or by crook, I managed to happen into a single ticket to last night's Game 1 of the World Series and tonight's Game 2. So, I've got plenty to say about Cliff Lee's otherworldly performance (10-K complete game without an earned run and with a basket catch) and Chase Utley's unlikely longballs off CC but I just didn't have a chance to say it thanks to a busy work day.
And, I know what you're thinking. Yup. You're right. If I went to Game 1 then I certainly didn't watch the Knicks' opening game. I know. What sort of Knicks blogger didn't watch the first Knicks game? Not a very committed one. But you knew that already. But, I ask, what sort of Knicks blogger gets up at 6 a.m. the next morning and watches a recording of the game? One with severe obsessive tendencies and an addictive personality. But you knew that already too. So, more to come on both those things later tonight (or probably tomorrow morning) as well as news and views from Game 2. No matter how much I disdain the Fightins, I would like to see Pedro throw well tonight. In part, so we're not subjected to four hours of "Who's your Daddy?" chants.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bargain in Aisle Game 6

Pulitzer-Prize-winning humor columnist Dave Barry wrote that women want "to be loved, to be listened to, to be desired, to be respected, to be needed, to be trusted, and sometimes, just to be held" while men want "tickets for the world series.”

The pride of Pleasantville High School (who was the inspiration for the titular character in the sitcom Dave's World starring Harry Anderson) would not be surprised that the going rate for a single upper tank ticket to Game 1 of the Fall Classic at Yankee Stadium is upwards of $300, several times above face value. Tickets to the World Series are a hot commodity, even if some Yankees fans are selling them to try to recoup their expenses after paying exorbitant rates to attend games during the regular season. The combination of Yankees fans being more inclined to sell their own tickets, weeknight games early in the Series and bad weather in New York, though, has created cheaper prices in the Big Apple than in Philly, where tickets for Friday night's Game 3 begin around $425. Tickets for Game 4 on Saturday night begin at $500 and those for Game 5 on Monday start at $475.

If you're in the market for tickets then go check out Fansnap.com. It's a ticket broker search engine that organizes all the secondary market tickets listed around the Internets. And when you are perusing the thousands of tickets available you might want to ask after Game 6. Because there are currently about 9,000 to be had and the cheapest are running less than $150. There are two reasons for the drop off in price. The first is the fact that Yankees fans and New York ticket touts have flooded the market during a rainy week. And the second is that this game will only be played if necessary. It's not a lock like Games 1-4. And it's not a near lock like Game 5. There hasn't been a World Series that has gone six games since 2003 when the Marlins upended the Yankees in the Bronx.

But if you're a Yankees fan or a Phillies fan then go buy these (relatively) cheap tickets if you can. It's a risk because you're not guaranteed anything and most of these sellers aren't offering refunds but c'mon, other than Jimmy Rollins very few people see this Series ending in five games or fewer. There is a very good chance that we'll see a Game 6 back in New York next week. And when you see a Game 6, you potentially see something epic. Sportswriters have been falling all over themselves to tell you that this is the best World Series matchup in a long time. And if this Series is a true fall classic then Game 6 will be one to remember. Someone will be have a chance to clinch and the other team will be playing to stay alive. It's a recipe for awesomeness.

Notable Game 6 Moments:
-The 1986 Mets' miracle comeback made possible by the most famous E3 in history.
-Carlton Fisk's arm-flapping home run against the The Big Red Machine at Fenway in 1975.
-Kirby Puckett's stellar catch and walk-off homer against the Braves in 1991.
- Joe Carter's Series-clinching walk-off HR versus the Twins at Skydome.
-Josh Beckett's dominant performance against the Yankees in 2003 to give the Marlins an unlikely title.
-The 2002 Angels' comeback against Barry Bonds and the Giants to force Game 7.
-the Series-altering botched call at first base late in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series between the Royals and the Cardinals.

Starting Five

1. Gilbert Arenas. To put last night into some sort of context you have to go back to Tuesday April 3, 2007. The Wizards' increasingly un-secret Agent Zero had dropped 33 points, 7 assists, 4 boards and 2 steals in a losing effort against Charlotte. The Wiz had just lost Caron Butler to a season-ending injury earlier in the week but was still going to reach the postseason. They were, after all, an above-.500 team in the (L)East. Arenas would average 28.4 points per game that season, third behind Kobe and Carmelo. He would lead the league in three-pointers made and finish behind Kobe in free throws attempted. He was an All-Star and selected to the All-NBA second team. He was a rising star in the Association and his team was young and deep. And, then the next night his knee got bent all backwards in the second minute of the game and nothing has been the same. Since then, Gil has had more knee surgeries (3) than 30-point games (2). And he has played in fewer than 20 games coming into last night's season-opening tilt at Dallas. But last night you'd be hard pressed to notice that he missed a day. Agent Zero hung 29 up on the revamped Mavericks while dishing out 9 assists. With Arenas playing 38 minutes, the Wizards won, 102-91. Gil is one of my favorite players to watch in person but I've ended up sitting in too many Zero-less Wiz @ Knicks games during the past few seasons to feel totally comfortable buying tickets for Washington's first visit to the Garden in February.

2. Kobe Bryant. After receiving his championship ring and watching his banner unveiled, Kobe was hearing MVP chants just a minute into the game. Thankfully, Marv Albert jumped right on this, noting that the record for earliest MVP chant was being broken. He netted 13 points in the first quarter to see his team didn't come out flat after longer-than-usual pregame goings-on and finished with 33 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists as the Lakers held off the pesky Clippers, 99-92. Bryant didn't come out passive to start the game as he tended to throughout much of last season but he did get as many whistles as last year. He went 11-12 from the charity stripe while the Clippers went 11-16 as a team.

3. Lebron James. Those who don't believe in the 2009-2010 Lebronaliers will see last night's loss to the Celtics as a microcosm of the entire season to come. LBJ was special. The King dropped 38, the highest opening night tally of his career. But his team still lost.After racing out to a 19-5 lead with Lebron only contributing four points, the Cavs were outscored 90 to 70 the rest of the way. Cleveland only made five buckets in the fourth quarter and No. 23 sunk four of them. It looked like last year's playoff series against the Magic all over again. Even with Shaq out there looking decentish (10 points, 10 boards). The Celtics, on the other hand, got 26 points off the bench (compared to 10 for CLE) and looked deep (but more about that later) and impactful performances from the Big Three plus Rondo And Rasheed Wallace.

4. Travis Outlaw. Even though he is playing in his seventh season, the Blazers' small forward remains very much under the radar but the 25-year-old drafted right out of high school in 2003 looks poised to change that. Outlaw scored a game-high 23 points last night even though he came off the bench against the Rockets. He outscored All-Star teammate Brandon Roy by three and former No. 1 draft pick Greg Oden by 21. With the game level at 23 points after one quarter, Outlaw opened the second session with seven straight points (jumper, three, and driving dunk) and the Blazers more or less held that lead the rest of the way.

5. Andrew Bynum. After being called out as the overpaid player in the NBA by Forbes magazine because his career stat line of 8 points, 6 boards and 1.5 blocks per contest doesn't seem to justify the contract he signed after the 2007-08 season, the center from Plainsboro, NJ did his darndest to shed that label. He went for 28 and 13 in the Lakers' win over the Clippers.

Sixth Man. Rasheed Wallace. First of all, it still blows my mind that 'Sheed comes off the bench for the Celtics. Like Artest landing in LaLaLand, the rich get richer in today's NBA. A slightly pudgier version of the player that put up three 100-block, 100-three-pointers earlier in his career (the first ever to accomplish the feat) came off the bench for the C's last night in Cleveland and showed just why the Celtics are being tapped by many to reach the Finals this year. With Boston sluggish out the gates, Wallace entered the game late in the first quarter with his new club trailing, 21-12. Less than ten minutes of action later, he nailed a three to tie the game at 32. Although it was Paul Pierce who carried the day down the stretch there was no denying how crucial Wallace's 24 minutes, 12 points (with 3 treys), 3 boards and 2 blocks were.

Benched. Staying in Cleveland. Before last night's much-hyped season opener between the Celtics and the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Lebron James was bopping his head while listening to music on his blue and white New York Yankees headphones. For those (read: me) constantly trying to divine the future from the present it was something worth noting. And with Charles Barkley stating after the game that he considers Cleveland a step below both Boston and Orlando coming into the season, those in the Forest City will probably think dark thoughts while watching former Indians pitchers Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia take the hill for the Phillies and Yankees, respectively, in Game 1 of the World Series tonight in the Bronx.

The Ring Bearers


I think I must have missed when Chris Wallace got his championship ring. I saw all the other members of the 2008-09 Lakers get their rings. All of them but Wallace. Weird.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Morton's Fork

Mets Fans Faced With a Choice Between Two Evils

Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter in 1789 that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. The inevitably of death needed no explanation then, now or ever. We age and then we die. If we're lucky. Sports analysts are fond of noting that Father Time is undefeated and they are mostly correct. Although I heard that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played him to a draw in a 1987 pickup game. Or was it that Father Time won, but Kareem thought that he had to win by two? I forget but Kareem was allowed to stay in the NBA for another two seasons.

The second bit that Franklin wrote about taxes being as much a fact of life as mortality is something that mankind brought to the table on our own. It wasn't always that way. One person who played a role in that is fellow by the name of John Morton.

Mr. Morton was the Lord Chancellor of England under Henry the VII. Hank was the first Tudor monarch and ascended to the throne in the wake of the The War of the Roses (and no, not the Kathleen Turner/Michael Douglas movie) in 1485, replacing Richard III. The one with the hump in his back that everyone thought was a creep. Once in power, Henry VII focused on two things. Killing everyone who was not on his side. By declaring himself King retroactively to the start of his bid for the throne, he managed to make those who had opposed his rise and backed Richard III and the Plantagenets guilty of treason even though they had technically been siding with the crown at the time. Well played, your highness. Henry also set about getting England's finances in order. For this he tapped Morton, who he had previously named Archbishop of Cantebury. In 1487, Morton became Lord Chancellor and got to work extracting money from the noble classes, stating that "If the subject is seen to live frugally, tell him because he is clearly a money saver of great ability he can afford to give generously to the King. If, however, the subject lives a life of great extravagance tell him, he too can afford to give largely, the proof of his opulence being evident in his expenditure."

In other words, if you spent money then you were liable to be taxed and if you saved money you were liable to taxed. There was no escaping taxation. The policy became known as "Morton's Fork" because each of the arguments were the prongs of the fork and taxes were harvested either way. And back then "forks" were farming implements (think pitchfork) with two prongs rather than dining utensils with three or four prongs. Morton's ingenious tax policy would replenish the treasury during Henry VII's reign and go a long way towards making taxation something that Franklin would see as unavoidable a few hundred years later.

For some reason, the phrase "Morton's Fork" didn't enter the vernacular as successfully as "Hobson's Choice" - a free choice of one option best summed up as "take it or leave it." In place of "Morton's Fork" we've got phrases like "caught between a rock and a hard place" and "between the devil and the deep blue sea" to describe the state of being given two equally unpleasant options to choose from. By any name, though, this is certainly the situation faced by Mets fans as the 2009 "Pick Your Poison" World Series is set to begin.It's the New York Yankees versus the Philadelphia Phillies. Our bullying older brother versus our blood rival. It's a Morton's Fork. If the Yankees win then we've got to hear all about No. 27 and how the Bronx is the home to all that is pure and right (and overpriced) about baseball. If the Phillies win then we've got to hear all about the unbeatableness of the "team to beat" and how they are a dynasty. No. Thanks.

What to do? WIlliam C. Rhoden writes in the Times that "Mets fans will be standing shoulder to shoulder with Phillies fans, not necessarily cheering for the Phillies but rooting against the Yankees." and Greg over at Faith and Fear in Flushing seems to feel that way. The Brooklyn Met Fan also is pulling for the Phillies and believes that anyone who isn't does not truly support the Mets. Although I think BMF sounds suspiciously like a Yankees fan when he veers into the "I'm a better fan than thou" territory the kernel of his argument is that you always support your league in the Fall Classic.

I follow that logic and am a consistent supporter of National League baseball. In recent years, I've rooted for the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, (in 2004 not 2006) and Houston Astros in the World Series over their American League opponents. I enjoy the NL brand of baseball and speak up for it whenever someone tries to come with that AAAA nonsense. However, I am not going to root for the Phillies just because they are representing the Senior Circuit. It's not that simple. Just like I wasn't about to start tomahawk chopping for the Braves during the 1990s.

In order to figure out which is the lesser of two evils, I'm going to break this decision down science like.

(+) Reasons to root FOR the Phillies:
1. If the Phillies win then the National League will be bolstered.
2. If the Phillies win then my buddy Ryan will be psyched.
3. If the Phillies win then A-Rod is still without a ring.

(-) Reasons to root AGAINST the Phillies:
1. If the Phillies win then the team's fans will become even more insufferable and may ascend to that level of douchery and self-entitlement previously reserved only for Yankees fans.
2. If the Phillies win then they will become the first NL club to win back-to-back world titles since The Big Red Machine and will be on the verge of a dynasty.
3. If the Phillies win they will further highlight the chasm that has grown between my team and theirs.
4. I dislike Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth and various other Phillies players more than I dislike any players in the Major Leagues. Seeing them succeed actually angers me. And seeing them high-fiving and celebrating makes me want to smash my coffee table. Or, should I say re-smash it since there is already a gaping hole in it.
5. Like, I really hate those guys. Especially Victorino.
6. The Mets play the Phillies many, many times next season and I will have to listen to their fans at both ballparks. I miss the early days of Citizens Bank Park when it was Shea South when the Mets were in town.

Reasons to root FOR the Yankees:
1. If the Yankees win then the "You bought the World Series" argument can be dusted off.
2. My father and both grandfathers will be happy.
3. So will a handful of my friends and other relatives.
4. If the Yankees win then my favorite team's rival has been beaten.
5. If the Yankees win then the players I dislike the most have not won.
6. Post-Series rioting will take place somewhere close enough that maybe I could score a free car stereo or something.

Reasons to root AGAINST the Yankees:
1. I don't need A-Rod to join Reggie Jackson as an October icon.
2. The proliferation of pinstriped No. 27 jerseys would be painful. Although the return of those ridiculous "Got Rings" shirts would be sort of funny in an "I can't believe the crap you people will buy" sort of way.
3. I'll be subjected a severe uptick in pro-Yankees agitprop about town.

With the facts laid bare, I see no easy choices. If the enemies of my enemies are also my enemies then do I root for mutual annihilation? Yes, if this were the Third World War. But it's just a best-of-seven baseball series so that seems out of the question. I really want both teams to lose and will draw my most pleasure from the blunders and pratfalls that each team makes along the way. This will be the Schadenfreude Series for me. But after much debate, the lesser of the two evils is.... The New York Yankees.

As a Mets fan I feel no choice but to root for the Phillies to lose (much like Matt Cerrone over at Metsblog). And, I guess, in some sort of way that means that I'm pulling for the Yankees to win. Well, that's not really true either. I'm no Chamber of Commerce fan and won't be high-fiving anyone with a blowout and Teixeira jersey. My choice is based largely on what will anger me less during the World Series, which, as a baseball fan, I would like to watch and what will cause me less grief in the future. In both cases, a Philles' win is the least desirable outcome. Yup, another Phillies' victory parade down Broad Street would bother me more than the Yankees getting a ticker tape parade down on Wall Street.

This seems to be an unpopular stance among Mets fans who can't stand the idea of showing up to work and hearing Yankees fans crow about their team. And, I get that. I really do. Yankees fans can be the most difficult people to talk sports with. In fact, I don't really try any more. I grit my teeth, smile, let whatever nonsense their spewing about Derek Jeter's inclusion on any list of the game's greatest players wash over me like bus exhaust while standing at a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change. I'll just say something nice about Bernie Williams to keep them from getting worked up and do my best to move along. For them, the entire history of Major League Baseball is but the backdrop for episodes of Yankeeography. They view the world through pinstriped glasses and they will continue to do that no matter what happens during the next two weeks.

It's important to note that the stereotypical team-aggrandizing, self-entitled worst-case-scenario Yankees fan is already as bad as he's going to get. He's already been a jerk (at least when it comes to baseball) for more than a decade. We're used to it. It's part of living in New York. No matter the outcome of this World Series, those Yankees fans won't change. They're not going to be humbled by a loss, not even a sweep. Talk radio in this town is already dominated by the Yankees. ESPN and the local news is already dominated by the Yankees. And those facts are not going to change if the Yankees lose.

On the other hand, a Phillies win would only raise their national profile and further move them into the NY-Boston circuit that dominates coverage by the Worldwide Leader. It would establish the Rollins-Howard-Utley club as one of the best of this generation and put them on the verge of a dynasty. And for all those Mets fans so worried about the Yankees fans, it would set up a situation where we are bounded on all sides by insufferable fans who root for teams that have been better than ours in recent years.

For the greater good of Metsdom, I want the Yankees to earn their 27th world championship to keep it from the Phillies. Yes, it likely means dealing with some boorish Yankees fans but that was bound to happen anyway. A Bombers win maintains the status quo and gives the Mets a chance to re-stake their claim to the National League East in the near future without having to deal with toppling the two-time defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies. Ugh. Just typing that made me sure that I am rooting for them to lose no matter who that hands the trophy to.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

77 > 91 + 95 + 93 + 70 + 79 \ 25 ≥ 6

Absence of Jenkins creates HUGE problems, opportunity

Among the thousand points of lowlight that shined this past murky Sunday at the Meadowlands during the Jets' 16-13 OT loss to the Bills perhaps the least illuminating was the injury to nose tackle Kris Jenkins. He left the game and never returned. It was later announced that he is done for the season thanks to a torn ACL in his left knee.

While the hunky QB Mark Sanchez's myriad interceptions may have been first through fifth among the postgame talking points, those turnovers have already done their damage. The injury to Jenkins, on the other hand, will continue to hurt this team in each remaining game. He is a 6-foot-4-inch beast in the middle of the defense. He weighs 360 pounds. He uses his thigh as anvil, could eat a hammer and take a shotgun blast standing. He demands double triple teams! Jenkins used to jog around the block with a fridge on his back! He can control the line of scrimmage as good (and perhaps better) than any player in the game! He wears a live rattlesnake as a condom!

Did I ever tell you about the time he was in a production of The King and I? On opening night, Jenkins chloroformed the entire cast and slowly eats them in front of the audience for two hours! The production got pretty good reviews.

I could go on but I don't think there's a need. You've seen the video. You've heard the stories. He's a defensive football player of Braskyesque proportions. And the Jets are going to use some combination of Sione Pouha (91), Howard Green (95), Marques Douglas (93), Mike DeVito (70) and Ropati Pitoitu (79) to replace No. 77. A four-time Pro Bowler, Jenkins will be missed. Opposing quarterbacks will have slightly more time. Offensive linemen will get to David Harris and Bart Scott a little easier. And running backs won't be engulfed like saplings in a wildfire.

As this helpfully highlighted image from the Jets' Week 4 Game in New Orleans shows, opponents have sent as many as three players to deal with Jenkins. And it generally didn't matter. The Jets' defense held Drew Brees's offense to 10 points. With Jenkins, the Jets defense is very good and occasionally great. Without him? Less so.

All of this means that you should go pick up Raiders running back Justin Fargas off the waiver wire in your fantasy football league. Now. The Jets are visiting Oakland this weekend and Fargas is seemingly the top guy in the Raider backfield. With Darren McFadden out of the picture thanks to a knee injury of his own, Fargas has seen his carries increase each of the last three weeks. Against the Eagles this past Sunday he turned 22 carries into 87 yards and a touchdown. He also threw in one catch for 11 yards.

For those of you not familiar with the work of Mr. Fargas, he's just the guy that has ended being the Raiders No. 1 back in terms of yardage in 2008, 2007 and 2006 no matter who the club drafted or signed to complete that task. The top guy was supposed to be some combination of Lamont Jordan, Michael Bush and McFadden but it was Fargas each time. He's not anyone's idea of an on-purpose starter in the NFL but he does seem to get the job done in a Sammy Morris sort of way when given the chance . On Sunday, he'll face a Jenkins-less Jets' run defense. The Raiders will have every reason (although the only reason they need plays quarterback for them) to want to establish the run. And to actually believe they can. During a week when so many NFL teams are on a bye, Fargas is just the plug-and-play guy to get you decent yardage and hopefully a score.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

StubFail

I was still at work as Game 3 of the 2009 ALCS was about to begin in Anaheim on Monday afternoon. The first pitch was schecduled for 4:13 PM EST. The Angels were traling 2-games-to-none in the best-of-seven series after dropping two sloppily played games in frigid New York over the weekend.

But the Halos, whose 97 wins during the regular season gave them the AL West crown and a playoff berth, were back home. The sun was out, the thunderstix were slap-clapping and Pat Sajack was tucked in a hollow just behind home plate. A win would put the Angels right back in the running to face the winner of the Phillies/Dodgers NLCS. Those two teams were likely just arriving at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia as Jered Weaver readied himself to face Derek Jeter in the top of the first in Anaheim. At the time, the Phils led 2-games-to-1 but hopes of a Freeway Series were very likely much alive on the West Coast. And both L.A. teams surely must have preferred to play in the warm weather of Southern California than in chilly cities in the northeast.

But the cold-weather teams from Philadelphia and New York City had other ideas. The Phillies wanted to defend their title and bludgeon opponents in their bandbox of a home ballpark. They remembered the bad-weather games last year against the Rays and had to feel better prepared for the elements than the Dodgers. The Yankees, meanwhile, were gleefully aware of how the cold affected the Angels in Games 1 and 2 and were beginning to feel a real homefield advantage for the first time in the newest new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. And the New York Mets? They were ready, too, in the swirling winds near JFK airport. One minute before Game 3 got underway in Anaheim, at 4:12 PM EST, an email arrived in my inbox trumpeting:



After a quick check of the standings - jeez, the Mets finished 23 games back of the Phillies in the NL East and 22 games back of the Wild Card-winning Rockies - I was pretty sure of two things. First, there were likely a lot of great seats available at Citi Field during October. And the reason for this was that Jerry Manuel's Metropolitans were not playing any postseason games there.

There was much joke-making after the StubHub gaff, which apparently also sent similar emails to some Cubs fans. To their credit though, the company, much like Umpire Tim McClelland, went on to apologize for its egregious postseason error.



It took StubHub until 7:47 PM EST on Monday night to apologize but they were lucky enough to do it before the first pitch of that evening's NLCS tilt, lest Mets fans became overly confused upon seeing two other teams playing on TBS come 8 o'clock. I know that by the middle innings of the Yanks/Angels game that I had begun to seriously think I had just imagined that my favorite team had become more injury prone than Elijah Price and that in reality the Metsies were cruising to the Fall Classic. I almost tried to buy tickets. But the good people at StubHub, who have always been very useful when I've been looking to lighten my wallet by a multiple of face value for a ticket to any event (even imaginary ones) thankfully disabused me of that notion.

I don't blame StubHub at all for this. Nor do I actually think it's that big of a deal. Nope. This email comes in a distant third place when I'm comparing my most gut-wrenching haha-the-Mets-are-not-in-the-playoffs mementos. And that's because the Mets themselves have provided the top two souveniers of what coulda/shoulda been. They've provided me with my growing collection of tickets to playoff games that never took place

2007


2008

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

For Whom the Whistle Blows

No player is an Iland, intire of it selfe;
every manis a peece of a team, a part of a game;
if one Ocotbre basket bee washed away by a replacement referee,
the division is the lesse, as well as if a playoff game were,
as well as if the favored team of thy friends or of thine owne were denied a title;
any bad officiating diminishes me, because I am involved in Association;
And therefore never send to know against whom the bad whistle blows;
It blows for thee.


Not that you would know it by reading this website, but the NBA preseason is in full swing. In fact, it's nearly over. Knicks fans have already booed the team for poor performance. It's on. Everything is in its place. Except for one thing: the refs.

The Association has locked out its 57 referees after a contract could not be agreed upon. David Stern rolled out replacement whistlers from the WNBA, D-League and the NBA layoff-line (two previously fired refs were given back their stripes) to keep the foul line occupied. From what I can gather, the NBA brass wanted to reduce the referee budget by 10%, about $32 million. The refs didn't want to give up that much and were willing to come within $70,000 of Stern's demand. For reference, the minimum rookie contract is more than six times that figure and the minimum yearly salary for a veteran with 10 or more years of his experience is more than 18 times the disputed amount. The money is around.

On the other hand, the NBA had to layoff about 80 people from it's domestic workforce this time last year to the economic downturn. It's tough all over and the notion of a 10% budget reduction from one group within a company when about 9% from another group were recently laid off doesn't seem out of line. Generally speaking, I'm pro-Union and all for standing up for one's rights (says the guy without health insurance) but I'm also for people making sacrifices for greater good when times are tough. Which means, I'm not even going to attempt to pick aside in this dispute.

What I am going to do is wonder how this affects me. First things first. Right?

And the way this affects me and you is through the games themselves. Will the replacements be terrible? Tolerable? Will we even notice? Will they also become involved in game-fixing/point-shaving scandals? Or will they rise to Shane Falco-esque heights, ultimately replacing the previous class of officials.

As much as I would hope/assume that the replacements are up for the task, I am fearful that it will be bumpy first few weeks. I expect in the short term that we'll hear more whistling as they try to assert themselves. We'll probably see more free throws, more arguing, more ejections and such as players and coaches alike try to pull the "well, the real refs never would have called that" card as much as possible. We've already seen some of this. Former Knicks coach Larry Brown is with the scabs during the preseason. He was tossed the other night from an exhibition game and was vocal about his belief that too many fouls were being called by the newbies. The numbers are in Brown's favors. Two recent Bobcats games had 77 and 61 fouls respectively. The league average last season was 49 in the preseason and 42 during the regular season.

"Without getting myself in trouble, I think the older refs knew how to not take the rules literally all the time. It created a flow," Bobcats guard Raja Bell told ESPN.com. "Some of that stuff they're going to let go for the benefit of a good flow to the game. I think the younger guys, it's not unlike an NBA player, you have to learn the rhythm of the game."

This quote gets an interesting subplot in this labor dispute. Do we want experienced refs who know what players expect and that know to swallow their whistles on certain things and in certain situations? Or do we want fresh-faced go getters who will call someone for carrying the ball on flashy crossover dribble? Jamal Crawford I'm looking southward in your direction. Personally I want a little of Column A and Column B because I'm difficult and unpleasable like that. I want the players to be allowed to play physically in the paint. But I also wouldn't mind if we finally put our foot down on traveling, for example.

Also, per LB's problems with over-eager officiating, I feel like we see that at the start of every season. For the first few weeks there are lane violations and travels called at a rate that feels (read: I have no actual evidence) for more frequent than it does later in the season. I would imagine that we're in store for a more extreme version of that this season. Once the neophyte whistle blowers get their nondescript shoes wet then I would hope that we can get back to normal. Or, perhaps even better than normal. Because, after all, how good are the refs that we've had in recent years? To be honest, I'm not sure. For years, we've complained about them? About the non-calls and the phantom fouls when star players were involved or in Game 3s when a team (and a television network that has already sold ad time) needs a miracle to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole. Maybe they're not that good. Maybe they are largely old and past their prime. Maybe they are too familiar with the players, the coaches. And maybe they've grown too aware of the grand stage and the television cameras.


For the long-term health of the game, I hope this lockout forces the NBA to develop it's pipeline for officiating talent. As noted Sports Fella, Bill Simmons, pointed out in one of his best and least-self-involved columns in recent memory, "The NBA's failure to develop a new generation of decent referees might be its single biggest misfire of the past 20 years." I couldn't agree more. The league's reliance on increasingly older officials seems to have been tolerated, in part, because fans, players and media members grew sentimentally attached to certain officials. The modern NBA has been built on the shoulders of individual superstars, unlike the NFL which is built around loyalty to a franchise. This emphasis on recognizable and marketable faces seems to have permeated referreedom. We know Dick Bavetta. He jogs every morning. We know Joey Crawford. He doesn't get along with Tim Duncan. My boy Bob Delaney used to be an undercover cop in Jersey.

I shouldn't know these things about these men. I shouldn't have fond memories of Chuck Barkley kissing Bavetta on TNT. Like, for sure I shouldn't have that memory. But I do. We do. Or at least lots of people do. While there are 50-something refs that I don't know by name there are at least a dozen more that I would recognize. Maybe that's not a good thing. Perhaps these pangs that Brown and likely all of us will experience in the next whistle fueled

Or perhaps we should just bet the OVER on every prop bet involving free throws made or attempted. Yeah, probably that one.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ol' Jon Gruden Here

For the longest time while watching and listening to Monday Night Football Last night, I couldn't place it. Gruden has never coached any team of mine so I never spent much time listening to him during press conferences over the years. What was so familiar about Jon Gruden's cadence, phrasing and self-assured-and-satisfied tone? That mix of confidence in what he was saying and wonderment at how right he was? That combination of world-weary sarcasm and homespun know-it-all-ism that perfectly suits the anti-hero?

Finally, one too many "Well, ya sees" or "ya know whats?" connected the pieces for me. Jon Gruden announces games like Jack Burton talks over his CB radio aboard the Pork Chop Express. That's what sounded so familiar.

"Well, ya see, I'm not saying that I've been everywhere and I've done everything, but I do know it's a pretty amazing planet we live on here, and a man would have to be some kind of FOOL to think we're alone in THIS universe."

Monday, October 12, 2009

¡Buen Dia De La Resistencia Indigena!

When I was growing up in the suburbs north west of the Big Apple, I spent the second weekend of several Octobers playing in a youth soccer tournament in the town of Parsippany, NJ. A lot of kids did. It was a big deal. Tents were rented. Canopies erected. Coffee and hot chocolate were poured from those heavy-duty brown plastic multi-gallon thermoses. Bagels were plastic-wrapped and marked C or B and arrayed on folding tables alongside candy and other things that my mom wouldn't buy me because she had made me a sandwich that was in a soft cooler . Paper boxes of munchkins were picked up at Dunkin' Donuts (by someone else's mom) en route to the first game on Saturday morning. Merchandise was hawked and kids clamored for t-shirts with clever slogans (like "soccer stud" with a picture of a screw-in stud for your cleats). Like I said, it was a big deal. Especially if you were like nine.

The travel soccer club in my town was the Ramapo Wildcats. I played with the team in my age group from the season it was founded early in grade school right on through high school when it was broken up. I was the only one that lasted that long. This, more than my play, allowed me to be team captain at various points throughout the years. I didn't get an armband but I did get to call a lot of coin tosses. We wore a green and white kit and took our name from the nearby Ramapo Mountains. The Ramapo Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain chain and were/are home to the Ramapough Lenape Indians. To travel to this tournament, my mom would drive us in our big black Chevy Suburban along Rt. 202 which ran along the foothills of the mountains.

My younger sister's team played in this tournament as well. And eventually the team's of my two younger brothers did. I recall my sister's squad having the most success. My teams? Not so much. Not that we weren't good, because we were. Seriously. Be impressed by me. Please. We once won the fabled Virginian. I know! But we couldn't seem to crack the nut that was Parsipanny. And the victory carried some cache. Not the trophy. Or the extra patches from other clubs that could be acquired by playing a few extra games. Nope. The prize was Monday. It was having to play in the finals on Monday and then getting to miss school.

The Parsipanny tournament was held Columbus Day weekend every year. The first two rounds were Saturday and Sunday and the championship games in each age group were Monday morning. The way I remember (which may be wrong), the public schools in my town used to get this day off. Until we didn't. It became just another Monday. Except one with more talk of the Pinta than normal. And perhaps a little preview of the first Thanksgiving. The only way to get excused from school was to reach the Final. So many kids in town were played with the Wildcats that all the teachers knew about the tournament and didn't give you a hard time about the absence.

That tournament in Parsipanny is what I think of every year when Columbus Day rolls around. I think of Smith Field, cool early morning games and the Burger King that was just outside the entrance to the field complex and that we would sneak over to, click-clacking in our cleats, in between games. I remember the white t-shirts from that tournament that had a picture of a three boats. Those boats stretched across the ample chests of soccer moms who wore them on the sidelines were sailing to America. Carrying fair-skinned folks whose arrival would eventually produce, among many other things, this tournament.

The name of the town comes from the Lenape word "parsipanong," meaning "the place where the river winds through the valley." Before there was a Burger King, a Smith Field complex and public schools classrooms to avoid on Mondays, the area had been populated by the Lenape. Not only were they spread up to the Ramapo Mountains, but also throughout New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware and up into the Hudson Valley. Today, though, the Lenni Lenape are not recognized by the U.S. Government. Meaning, they've got no reservation of their own. Not that having a reservation is the cat's pajamas. It's usually not. But it's something. It's a place where you can invite me to gamble and buy cheap cigarettes. It's also a place where, for example, you could have schools teach a version of history that accounts for your existence. It's a place were Columbus Day might not be viewed quite the same.

The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the "New World" might not seem like a day for celebration for those who are really from Parsipanny. For Native Americans and indigenous peoples throughout the Western Hemisphere it probably seems like a pretty shitty holiday. And no amount of zeppolles or sausage and pepper sandwiches at the various Italian-themed street fairs taking place around the country are going to change that. That said, I enjoy those items. But I'm not Native American. I'm a white guy from the 'burbs who likes greasy food served outdoors.

Italian-Americans have increasingly adopted Columbus Day as a day to celebrate their heritage since Columbus was from Genoa even though he sailed for Spain. It's also a big day for those who are looking to commemorate the audacious use of flags in history.


Oct. 12 has been a day for celebrations going back to the days of the 13 colonies. Oddly enough (at least it seems odd to me), Colorado was the first state to make Columbus Day a state holiday in 1906. It became a federal holiday in 1934. This was initially opposed by many in the middle of the nineteenth century. And not because folks realized that Columbus didn't exactly "discover" this land. Or because people felt it was giving undue glory to one of the sadder chapters in human history (that being the chapter in which Spaniards and assorted Europeans lay waste to civilizations on two continents in the Western Hemisphere, clearing space to allow for the destruction of a third continent). Rather, nativists and anti-immigration activists in America didn't like that Italians and assorted Catholics were increasingly using the day to celebrate their heritage. That was the problem: Catholics getting a little too uppity. WASPS, Masons and other right-wingnut "patriots" were afraid that the Catholics were going to take over the country. Probably to turn it over to the Vatican. That old gag.

In the twentieth century, South American countries began to celebrate Dia De La Raza in place of Columbus Day. This "Day of the Race" was meant to run counter to the Eurocentric holiday in the U.S. and commemorate the pre-Columbian cultures that had been nearly expunged from the continent. In 2002, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez renamed the holiday Dia De La Resisencia Indigena, meaning "Day of Indigenous Resistance" to remember the struggle of those ancient cultures living in the New World against their would-be colonizers. Two years later, a statue of Columbus was toppled in Caracas on Oct. 12. Things were getting interesting.

This past weekend a soccer tournament was held in Parsipanny. It's now called the Parsipanny Pride Tournament rather than the Columbus Day tournament. I'm not totally sure what that means. Although I don't suspect that Hugo Chavez had much to do with it. Needless to say, I wish I could have been playing in the finals instead of at work today.