It's Only Sports

In just a month, you can certainly put things in perspective. Actually, you can adjust your perspective in one day, but I think you know what I mean.

March 2009 was a really bad month for the US. The stock markets were bottoming out. The Tea Party was ‘founded,’ just weeks prior. And President Obama failed to learn that he had to be a much bolder, offensive leader in order to be successful.

He was going to get fair criticism from most beltway pundits, but he was never going to be fairly treated by the Right-wing media. Every business trip has been labeled a vacation. Every speech has been called either an exercise in ego, an abuse of power, or both. And even taking time during a weekday lunch break to fill out NCAA tournament brackets has been criticized as an abuse of government time.

Obama had to be educated enough to know that when you are a Democratic president, and therefore portrayed by the right wing media as illegitimate, you are not going to be granted the same leniency given to a Republican predecessor. George W. Bush took 977 leisure days (I won’t call them vacation days) while in office, while Barack Obama is being flamed for playing 60 rounds of golf in 26 months. A high number, yes. But keep in mind that Bush went to Camp David every weekend during the chaotic autumn of 2001, partly so he could watch college football games and chomp on pretzels with NSA Secretary Condoleezza Rice. No one accused national security being “off duty” on weekends.

But I meant this post to be about sports. The state of the world can go up as a separate post. And, well, this brings me back to where I started. March.

Yes, March 2009 was really bad. Our economy was on the edge of an abyss (and isn’t far from the edge still today). But here we are, two years later, and this March has been so eventful, I really am hard pressed to find another month so significant in world history since August 1991 – nearly 20 years. Or if not significant, then at least a period more eventful since that amazing summer of 1991.

More on that in the next post.

I was trying to get this post up in March. Working seven days a week, it was more difficult than I assumed. So while it is late, here is my random, eccentric summary of some of the sports happenings I witnessed in March.

New York Mets: Season of Doom

Need I say more? It’s going to be awful. I see a team with a weak offense, an almost non-existent bullpen, and in dire need of a complete financial takeover. New ownership and a new GM are sorely needed. And yet, I am scheduled to go to three games and counting this season.

The Mets are my local MLB team. I like them and their windy, trashy, pinball machine of a ballpark called Citi Field. They are a big market team. They will eventually mount another playoff run…if Atlanta and Philadelphia ever relinquish their dominance over the NL East. Oh, and that new ballpark in Miami is just 12 months away from opening. And the Marlins already have as many MLB championships as the Mets. Sigh.

Boston Red Sox: Impossible expectations

Tired of the Red Sox being called the best team in baseball? I am. They have incredible depth. They have so much depth, they had to send young players who are almost ready for the majors back to Pawtucket. They don’t just have a veteran situational lefty reliever, they have a new lefty, Andrew Miller, who could be an all star in waiting.

But Red Sox Nation needs to get back to its logical roots. Andrew Miller is not yet available, as much as he might be needed later this season. David Ortiz is having a great start, but he needs everyone else in the order to catch up. And the starting pitching, so far, has been far short of expectations. It has been 15 years since the Red Sox started the season 0-4, but that is what has happened as this long delayed blog post went up.

Newcastle United: Stuck in neutral

Discipline problems. Only one point in ten games. A predictable, yet worse than expected loss to Stoke City. The only thing holding Newcastle United together in March was positive team chemistry, consistent fan support, and faith that the team would notch the 1 or 2 wins needed to secure safety in the Prem. More on that in a future post.

ICC Cricket World Cup: Snapshot of the One Day International game

The ICC Cricket World Cup was a cracker this time around. News of the death of the 50 over game are premature, if not exaggerated. I love 50 overs per side. Cricket is a pastime. The ideal one day match should be eight hours, like a work shift, except it isn't work.

We saw England beat the West Indies by a narrow margin, with the hope of going all the way, only to be beaten down by semi finalists Sri Lanka. And in that West Indies match, the Windies had to use a batsman out of order because another batsman was in the “washroom” when his turn to bat came up. It’s a silly sport. I love it.

Dallas Mavericks: One player short of a championship?

Or two. It's a shame that the team with the best coach and defense in the NBA seems to be too broken to advance in the upcoming playoffs. I hope I am incorrect.

March Madness: What’s that?

Seriously, who manufactured this spectacle? Oh right, the NCAA and CBS, with CBS paying the NCAA billions of dollars to televise the tournament for decades, and fans paying billions of dollars into an underground betting economy. Somehow you are not a real man unless you have something called a bracket. Meanwhile, the NCAA, which apparently is a non profit organization, issues death penalties to teams (see U Mass, 1996) if one player accepts gifts from any source. No disputing the punishment. But what exactly does the NCAA do with the partially-disclosed billions it receives, besides not paying the athletes who draw television audiences? Is it silly to ask?

Of course, Europe has its own equivalent of the NCAA tournament. It is called the Football Association and the English Premier League. But since I am able to separate gambling in the UK from the beautiful game, I can appreciate the sport. What I can’t appreciate is a street game, played by college students, elevated to something it never deserved. The only people who truly care about college teams are college students. I can attest. That 1991 U Mass squad that made it to the NIT Final Four was brilliant. But would anyone seriously outside U Mass in the early 1990s remember that? Would Boston, a pro sports town, really care about college sports, aside from the occasional BC football game or the Beanpot? No.

While I am not one to put any faith into professional sports as a wholesome, socially necessary institution, I am never going to care about the cash flush NCAA, or it’s hypocrisy on gambling and gifts, while it receives billions in cash from the media, big universities, and who knows who else.

The Ashes, Forth Test: Australia Level Series

And it was a swift, dominating win by Australia. The match was lost for England on the first day, when they lost all wickets for just 102 runs.

So now the fifth and final test at the Oval will be the rummer match of the series. Winner take all (or a draw, I assume, will allow Australia to retain the Ashes). It shouldn't be gloom & doom time for England. There are ways for them to win this final test, at one of their most favorite venues.

The Ashes, Third Test: Edgbaston Ends In A Draw

Well, England might have won had it not rained on Thursday and Saturday. This sets-up the forth test in Headingley as a possible series-clincher for England.

Lawyers Guns & Money has a good final word on the third test.

And the Australians try to spin good news out of this latest weather-shortened draw here.

No week-long break for the teams this time. The forth test begins this Friday, August 7th.

The Ashes, Third Test: England's Chance To Take Control

If only the first day of the test wasn't a washout.

Still, good things tend to happen for England at Edgbaston. They could still win this match thanks to a swift end to Australia's first innings on day two. Barring no further rain delays, England have a real chance to take full command of the series this weekend with a win. They have to remain optimistic for a result after such great bowling.

A Black Day For The Imperial Game


Seven Pakistanis, including six police and the driver of a bus carrying match officials, were killed in Tuesday's attack on the Sri Lankan team as it was being driven to the Gadaffi Stadium for the third day of a match against Pakistan.
The BBC:
The second Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka has been called off following the attack on the bus carrying the tourists' team in Lahore.
BBC: Pakistan faces loss of cricket tours
"Cricket in Pakistan is over for some years, I would believe," said former Pakistan captain, Sarfraz Nawaz.
The Independent: Sri Lankan cricketers wounded in Pakistan attack
Former England cricketer Dominic Cork, who was also caught up in the attacks, called for international cricket to boycott Pakistan.

Cork, who was working as a commentator for Pakistan TV, told Sky News: "I don't think international cricket should return to this country.

"I won't be coming back here while I'm still living, there is no chance."

BBC: Lahore bus driver's dramatic escape

The Guardian: How the attack took place (interactive feature)

BBC: Hunt for Lahore cricket attackers

BBC: Pakistan cricket future in doubt

BBC: [Referee] Chris Broad's eyewitness account of Pakistan attacks

The Times: Heroics of blood-splattered Chris Broad who protected umpire during attack

The Times: Angry Chris Broad says cricketers and officials were left as 'sitting ducks' by Pakistan

Random Sports Roundup

NFL: In the NFC Central, the Steelers won an odd Sunday, at home, under flurries, in a close game against the Chargers. Meanwhile the Baltimore Ravens were run-over by the New Jersey Giants. This makes the December 15th game between the Steelers and Ravens even more important. If I was employed, I'd go see it. I kinda like the Ravens. They have a literary name, a European-style crest, good fans (better than New Jersey or Philly fans, anyway), and a damn good coach and rush defense (except this past Sunday).

Red Sox 1: The Sox are apparently shopping Julio Lugo. If they get anything for him, that would be great. Take what you get and strengthen him in Pawtucket. Lugo was never a power hitter, but he used to be a good infielder. But even last year, that fell apart as he made 16 errors in his position (SS). Just stating the obvious - the Red Sox eventually need a star shortstop. They have had 6 different guys in that position since 2004. I like Kahalil Greene, who has 1 year left on his Padres contract. But ideally, they need a golden-glove candidate under the age of 30 in that spot. They need stability at Short, and so they need to scout/shop around.

Red Sox 2: Moot point department - The Red Sox front office sent Manny Ramirez a letter on July 25th, informing him that he was to be suspended for skipping-out of two consecutive games. Manny phoned-in and told them that he would play the next game (which he did). He was traded a week later to the Dodgers, led by Frank McCourt, Ned Colletti, and Joe Torre. Also, while Terry Francona has a reputation of taking care of clubhouse problems, there's no evidence that he sat Manny down for a talk regarding his insubordination. So what was the point of this story?

Red Sox 3: While the Red Sox need to find a star shortstop, they have an pretty good 3rd baseman in Kevin Youkilis, a Golden Glove 2nd baseman in Dustin Pedroia, and possibly an opening at 1st. That spot would go to Mark Teixeira, should the Red Sox pursue him. And if they pursue him, they would potentially have the highest bid, since the Yankees have opted to go after 1st baseman / outfielder Nick Swisher (who has been signed) and Indians starting pitcher CC Sabathia (who is contemplating the Yankees unspecified offer).
Red Sox 4: And Dustin Pedroia has been named 2008 American League MVP! The Sox fans weren't joking when they started chanting 'MVP!' in July. They called it. Kevin Youkilis came in 3rd in the MVP voting, while Chicago White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin came in 5th.
*Personal gaming footnote - in my 'alternate universe' season of MLB Power Pros 2007, I traded Laynce Nix to the Rangers for rookie Carlos Quentin. It was the only trade I completed that fantasy season, and it was a winner. Blind luck on my part.

Score a ton, shut the door, take a ride, Yuvraj.

Cricket: I think Yuvraj Singh made his international debut 8 years ago, when he was 18. He got my attention in July 2002 when he scored 69 crucial runs in the middle of India's batting order against England in an unforgettable 1-day match at Lord's. He is 26 now, and he's maturing as a star left-handed all-rounder. On Monday, he batted and bowled magnificently against England in Game 2 of a 7-game series in India. He batted 5th in India's order and scored 118 runs off of 122 balls (India's top scorer of the day). And as a bowler, he was even more impressive, going 4-28 (taking 4 wickets in 10 overs -that's 60 balls- and giving-up 28 runs). England probably won't win this series, but they did see a promising performance from 22 year-old fast bowler Stuart Broad, who also took 4 wickets. He was a hero in their triumphs over South Africa this past summer, and it looks like he has a very bright future. England have two test matches against India in December before touring the West Indies in February/March 2009.

"Hey Beautiful...The Backdoor's Open"

And I'm not talking about Normar Garciaparra and Mia Hamm. And no, "backdoor" is not what some of you may be thinking. It's part of the story below.

Busted for the last time (with his estranged wife anyway)...I give you Shane Warne, a great cricket bowler, and a first-class womanizer. The British tabloids are having a field day with this.

It was bad enough when stories of parties and having sex with more than one woman a night went around. It was embarrassing when he took diet pills in an attempt to eliminate his paunch, and got banned from the game for a year as a result (he even said that it was his mother's idea when she saw his belly on the telly). But an errant (probably drunken) text message to his wife instead of a girlfriend is the final nail in a disastrous 12-year marriage.

Monty Panesar Shines as England Beat the West Indies in Manchester

Monty Panesar is one of England's top cricket bowlers. This is his summer to break through and become a big star. Yesterday, he made that breakthrough. He scored his first 10 wicket test, which finished on Monday. That's ten outs -four in the first innings and six in the second innings- during the five-day match. He did give-up 137 runs in the second innings, contributing to the Windies' near-record 394 runs for a losing team's second at-bat. But 10 K's puts his name on a board of England achievements somewhere, and he earned it. He is doing some great things and like the England team of 2005, he is putting Cricket on the back cover of the tabloids again. I cannot wait for India to visit England for a test series in July. But until then, there is still one more test to play against the West Indies this weekend at Riverside (Durham County, I believe, near some castle).

My favorite England fast bowler, Steve Harmison, notched his 200th test wicket. His location was off in the first innings, where he struggled to get 2 wickets. But he recovered to earn a respectable 6 wickets while giving-up 150 runs total in the match.