Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Out With The Old

Jim Joyce fucked it up.

Then, as he usually does, Selig made the wrong decision.

That's the short version. I don't have too much to say here; most of the discussion has already taken place (most eloquently here). The blown call and the reverberations will be felt for a few years to come, especially when the instant replay is mentioned next. I mean, it doesn't get more simple than this instance; a missed call completely changed the outcome of a historic game. There's the underlying premise from the old-world of baseball that the "human element" is of worth or important to the game; I'm completely against that. It doesn't make sense. You know why there's a human element to the game? Because that's the best we could do, get a person to ump the game. We have a better option now, and it's stupid not to use it. Look at it this way: getting to the store from your house a few miles away used to have an equine element. That doesn't mean we still do it that way. Tennis should be the inspiration; when a call is contested it's immediately replayed via a monitoring computer. It's fast, it's accurate, and it works.

It should also be said that Galarraga threw an absolute gem: 88 pitches and 67 for strikes in an hour and forty two minutes of work, both the count and the time being the second lowest in both categories for perfection, all against a team that can hit and run pretty well. Also noteworthy is how he's acted exemplary and deserves nothing but acclaim (and maybe a new Corvette) during this whole thing - hugging Joyce after he apologized and acting as though he's a grown man who understands he's playing a game. It's great to see such a positive example; most who watch the sport (myself included) and write about it began seething with rage as soon as Joyce's arms went horizontal.

It comes down to this: Bud should've changed the play. There's no logical reason why he wouldn't; every single principle involved in the play (the ump, the batter, the fielders) agrees that the game should have ended at first, with Armando Galarraga holding the ball after a perfect 9 innings. Baseball isn't moored to the past anymore than basketball or football; the problem is that the establishment of Major League Baseball is old, moneyed, and stagnant. Bud's never done anything without the promise of money attached, and no one who knows anything about Selig would expect him to make the right call. Remember, this is a comissioner who thought a tie would be an excellent end to an All Star game. This is a League that refuses to schedule any playoff or World Series games during the day, that won't let you show clips on YouTube, that has a major rule inconsistencies between its own divisions. Replay and sensor technology won't ruin baseball any more than switching from woolen uniforms. Baseball is an old game, yes. Players wore dress shoes that were cobbled together with a spike plate when professional Baseball started and the scoreboards was just wooden numbers; the move to modern cleats and jumbotrons hasn't changed what Baseball is. Let's embrace the idea that a system of umpire review can do the same.

Once and for all - it's not "modernization" to advocate technology to ensure correct calls. The umpires are human, and humans make mistake. Players will make mistakes. There is NOT a corollary that states we have to therefore be subject to mistakes mattering more than the game. Put in some provisions to keep this from happening again, comish.

I love baseball, but holy shit it's getting tiresome being a fan of a sport controlled by people who, if Selig is any indication, wear adult diapers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Holy Expletive Deleted!

Brooks Conrad just hit a grand slam. In the bottom of the 9th. While his team, the Braves, were down by 3. So this is a walk-off grand slam, which is maybe the most amazing and preposterous thing in baseball.

Because MLB still won't let highlights go on any site than enables embedding, you'll have to go here for the video. It's worth it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

No, Thank You


Earlier this year, Conan O'Brien was given his chance to host one of the most valuable television programs in the history of the medium. It lasted nine months. If you're familiar, excuse the quick recap: NBC, winning the ratings game behind Leno's abysmal show for years, became panicked at the thought that he'd leave the network and compete with Conan's new show. And in one of the stupidest moves in the history of television, NBC decides to cancel all their programming from 10-11pm and give Leno a new show every weekday at that time slot. A show, it should be mentioned, that was somehow even more abysmal that his time behind the Tonight Show desk. It's impossible to overstate how fucking stupid this decision was, but I'll try: since NBC is using Leno's 10pm turd sandwich to save money (throwing Leno a few million is still hugely cheaper than funding an hour long drama), they made it known that ratings much lower than normal 10pm original programming are acceptable.

(Which is sort of like hiring a hooker but only for a$10 hand job and rationalizing that it's cheaper than the $100 you'd have to spend for sex, so the less-than-ideal result is okay. Because, the thinking goes, it's only ten bucks!)

So the problem is that the ratings are just as low as everyone thinks, and while NBC says they're within predetermined limits, what happens is that everything on NBC after 10pm starts hemorrhaging viewers. Affiliates complain loudly, because their 11pm local news programs are less watched than ever before, and Conan, with no lead in and still artistically finding his footing, sees his own ratings suffer. NBC, rather than doing the logical thing and abandoning the Leno show, fires Conan and puts Leno back on the air.


What, you might be asking yourself, does all this have to do with sports? Well, you impatient bastards, I'm getting there.

You see, the divide between Leno and Conan is really about mass appeal versus quality. Leno's Tonight Show perennially won the ratings battle against Letterman's far, far superior CBS show, and NBC was worried that the originality of Conan would be off-putting to the large audience of slack-jawed yokels who fell asleep while watching banality every night for years. Television must, for it to be profitable, appeal to a wide variety of people, and most of the time the highest-rated shows are outright awful - everything on CBS, for instance - while true quality programming oftentimes fails to find an audience. It's no surprise, then, that Conan got the shaft.

NBC is also the network that broadcasts the Olympics, which means that every two years when the Winter or Summer version comes around we're forced to watch the games through the confines of an America-specific, sap-laden, pre-taped, emotionally manipulative, drawn-out crapathon masquerading as sports coverage.

It's absolute and complete shit. It's especially worthless sports television, first of all, because for some reason as of yet unknown, NBC will continue to show everything on a tape delay. Which of course results in watching replays that NBC pads with interviews and soft-news type segments on various athletes. Live television makes poor hour-long dramas, but it's a necessity for sports (note that some of the events will be live on the East Coast, but the West will get no major events in daytime or primetime live, and I'm in Cali). With the Winter Olympics, this also means that we're beset with an onslaught of worthless "sports"- the biathlon, famous for combining cross country skiing and shooting, is a good choice for the worst Olympic event, but curling gets my nod. Even the more popular events, like figure skating or bobsledding, deserve contempt. Anytime the race is against a watch instead of a person beside you, it's inferior. You might as well go to a wind tunnel and award medals to the people with the best drag coefficients.

That's my primary problem with the competition aspect of the winter games: everything is timed or judged and then the lower or higher number is the winner. That sucks. It'd be like a baseball tournament using a pitching machine and a judge to award the winner based on their impressions of the team's swings.


There's also the weird racist/America-focused aspect of NBC's coverage. And if you think I've overstating things or exaggerating, I'm not. It means that these weird niche sports, like snowboarding or the ski jump get reams of attention for a few weeks every four years. Skiing, skating, hockey, that's pretty much the totality of the events. It's worth mentioning that the people who participate in those sports are usually pretty well-off and white, and while that isn't of itself bad it does mean the talent pool from which these participants are drawn is very shallow. Even more so than that, it means that excelling in a Winter Olympic sport requires a lot of a person that isn't within that individual's control. And I realize that generally that might be the case for a lot of Olympic athletes. But the chances are, if you're a world class runner, you'll get a chance to run regardless of where you're born. If you're an exceptional basketball player or a baseball phenom, geography and income aren't necessarily impediments to success in that field (Cuba might be the only word I need to say to reinforce that). But if you're a great speed skater, and you really better hope your folks have the money to buy you the equipment and give you the access to facilities necessary to train and practice. See, for instance, the one-man Ghana ski team. In the Winter Games, the Snow Leopard is a conspicuous exception to the rule.

It means that rather than Usain Bolt, the charismatic and preternaturally gifted sprinter who reshaped the track and field record books, the face of the NBC 2008 Summer Games was a goofy swimmer who raced the same distance like a half dozen times. If you think I'm overstating it, then figure out how many people swim and compare it with how many people run, and tell me what event in an objectively covered Games would get the most attention.

So, I'm boycotting NBC and the Winter Olympics. I'm not trying to tell you what to do or start a movement that'll catch on, most people my age or younger don't care and don't watch them anyway.

And not to belabour the point, because I'm reaching the end, but: Joy in Mudville was started so we could have a deeper discussion about sports. It certainly wasn't to listen to blandly attractive blonds spout meaningless sentences about...well, I don't know what she's talking about, actually. But this approach, where NBC will reduce an athletic competition to the sob story of an American participant, hurts my soul.

If you haven't started bleeding out of your eyes and ears (seriously: "It's the one pure thing that nothing can effect." What the shit does that mean?), watch the immeasurably superior BBC spot advertising the SAME THING:

It almost makes you weep for the short straw we've drawn. There might be a few cool moments of the Winter Games, I'll allow. I'll just have to find a BBC link to watch them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"The Best Allen Iverson I Can Be"

Because I look the way I look, I act the way I act, I dress the way I dress, people think that I'm trying to be thug. That's just my envionrment, that's where I came from, that's what I go through in everyday life. I can't be somebody else. All I can be is the best Allen Iverson I can be

Perhaps I have absorbed these commericals well, my preceeding post is filled with similar sentiments about the man. Favorite line of that last one is "oh okay then," by the way.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Down From the Door Where It Began


When you just start to watch sports, you tend to gravitate towards the winners. We're all born little bandwagoners. Our parents or friends have to teach us to root for the local team(s), because when you're young and without influence, you just root for the best.

The best team or the best player or maybe sometimes both, like Jordan's Bulls. I'd bet you money that Larry Johnson's kids play as Adrian Peterson when they turn on Madden. I'm not sure if he has any kids, but if he does and they play Madden, you can pay up.

Why am I talking about this?

Allen BubbaChuck Iverson. That's why.

I still love my adolescent favorites. They stay with you forever; in my case those halcyon days of Montana picking apart a team's defense, or of Griffey and that swing. But as you grow, you start to look for more from your athletic icons. It isn't enough just to be very good, because excellence in and of itself isn't necessarily wortwhile. At least for me.

Go watch that Michael Jordan Hall Of Fame press conference again, and come back and try to tell me that's an admirable man. He's a maladjusted maniac, fuming over tiny slights that happened decades ago and competitive to the point of insanity. MJ is probably the greatest of all time in basketball, but what's that worth when you're such a shitty person?

So I started to notice how Barry Sanders tossed the ball quietly to the ref every time he scored. I noticed how no one ever had anything bad to say about Cal Ripken.

The man is more important than the accomplishment.

And then, as this shift became manifest, Allen Iverson came along.

He was, from the beginning, dogged with legal trouble. Legal trouble that boiled down to racism. A new documentary from ESPN's 30 at 30 series will detail in depth the prejudices that a young Allen fought through, but a quick recap: Allen and three of his friends were bowling in an alley in his hometown of Newport News, VA.

Newport is a poor ass city; Allen didn't have a phone in his house growing up, the local nickname is "Bad News", etc. So Allen is at this point 17 years old and the biggest name in the county; he's an all-world football player who had just led his team to the state championship. (If you haven't heard - AI could've gone pro in football, too. He's called the Answer for a reason!) While there, a shouting match broke out between two factions of people, and then a fight. Out of the two dozen or so people at the bowling alley, only Iverson and his three friends were arrested. They were also the only black people there.

Allen was tried under an archane law that existed to prosecute lynchers —seriously—and served a few months in a correctional facility. There was no evidence behind any of the charges. Granted clemency, he met John Thompson and under his care attended Georgetown as a Hoya, the rest is fairly well known.

While he is on trial, Allen wears a suit for the first time in his life. Disgusted with the trial, the racist police and townspeople, the complicit media who never challenged the case, Allen throws his suit away after the case is decided. He never puts one on again.

So then of course years later, when they start having conversations about the dress code for the NBA Stern instituted to get his players to dress more professionally, Allen Iverson is trotted out as an example of what's wrong with the NBA. No one ever bothers to mention the reason Iverson won't wear a suit.

Throughout his youth, facing obstacles and situations most can't imagine, Iverson remained a loyal, caring friend, a dedicated student, a good son and a decent man. In college he was taunted so maliciously that John Thompson had to ask other colleges to reign in their students, who were prone to racist chants and offensive signs.

As a NBA player he was the first to act authentically, and I mean that completely sincerely. Jordan spent his life as a blank slate so white people would buy Hanes underwear from him, AI tatted up his whole arms and put his hair in cornrows. He became a lightning rod, getting the absolute worst from everyone who didn't take the time to understand him a little better. Some fans, offended at his very existence , continued the racist taunts during his road games.

Think about that for a second. Imagine being incredibly good at basketball. Now imagine playing in an arena where 20,000 people are angrily taunting you because you grew up in a poor town and dress and act differently than they do. Imagine Salt Lake City Jazz fans yelling "GO BACK HOME, MONKEY!" at you while you played basketball. How would you react?

Allen Iverson reacted as best as anyone could. He played harder. He smiled at those college kids after he hit free throws. He thanks God almost every press conference, talks about being blessed. He wishes his enemies well. He's made mistakes. He's messed up, but in the grand scheme of things, they've been tiny little nothings.

He's blamed for the 2004 Olympic Bronze, but he was the only player who gave an interview after every game, who talked about what an honor it was to be on the team, how it was a dream come true. He played his guts out.


Bron and Wade only said they were happy to be on the Olympic team after they won a Gold Medal 4 years later. He's a person who asks forgiveness and grants it when asked. Do unto others.

Iverson is someone I admire, someone I look up to, and someone who shows me that obstacles are there to be overcome. That inner strength is stronger than anything else. I hope I can become a man like him one day, and about that I'm utterly sincere.

I haven't even started talking about AI the player. I know he's been put down a lot throughout his career as someone who shoots too much, who dominates the ball too much on offense to ever be part of a Championship team. I've heard it all.

It's wrong. It's completely wrong. Iverson is a spectacular, otherworldy athlete, and he does things on the basketball floor that boggle the mind.

In person it's even more impressive, but on TV you can see it: Blindingly fast, quick beyond all comprehension, he drives from and into angles that are basically invisible, finishing impossibly at the rim while clobbered by men twice his size, playing the most minutes in the league basically the first ten years of his career.

Watching AI play is a sight to behold. Watching the Sixers waste his prime years as a player was heartbreaking.

To the charge that AI doesn't pass enough—yeah he does. Go watch an All-Star game, where AI throws passes fellow All-Stars can't believe got to them, where he's won two MVP awards.

You can even go find his career stats: An average of 6.3 assists per game. You know the amazing thing about that? The scrubs he was throwing the ball to. After the 2005-2006 season the Sixers had enough of AI and shopped him around, they wanted to focus on their young players.... young players like Iguodala, or Korver, or Zendon Hamilton, or Willie Green, or Deng Gai.

Do you know any of these players? Probably not, (except for maybe Korver, famous for looking like a terrible actor) because none of them are All-Stars.

Withholding Iguodala, most of them are pretty terrible. Fitting, because Iverson has been on, almost without exception, terrible teams his whole career. The 2001 team he brought to the Finals against the Lakers probably wouldn't have been starters on the Lakers.

Allen made them great, put them on his back and carried them up the mountain. You can't win it all by yourself in pro basketball, it's true. Yeah, but holy shit, no one's tried as valiantly as he has to do it anyway.

After a short stint in Denver, he's traded for Chauncey, who immediately gels with the team and propels them to better play. The story becomes Iverson the Selfish Player, the shoot-first point guard. It's never really discussed that Iverson plays best on a defense-focused, fast team and the Nuggets, with Karl at the helm, are a half court team with no defensive strategy.

Last year, Nash struggled with a different offense and a slower team. The consensus among sports heads was that he just needed to play his style of basketball and this year he's flourishing with his rhythm and his system.

Where was this conversation with AI? Instead, he's called names, maladjusted, someone who should accept a bench role, past his prime, on and on. Iverson is a genetic freak, he's almost as fast now in his mid thirties as he was when he was young, and he's only gotten smarter as a player.

Was there a single article or segment you watched in the last few years about how Iverson needs to play his game or that he should get a coach with the right system for him?

I'll go ahead and say not once.

It's not surprising. The League never had anyone who could work Iverson into their offense or build one around him. Larry Brown came close, but Larry Brown is too much of a dick to stick around and make anything last. The same League that airbrushed off his tattoos for an official magazine cover a few years back, by the way. Shocking, I know, that a group of older white people who never understood Iverson the man or Iverson the player all passed on him recently before the Sixers picked him back up.

You'd hear quotes about how they wanted to develop their young talent or that'd he'd be a disruption. You know who said that? The same guys who passed on Jennings, the guys in Atlanta who needed a point guard and didn't draft Chris Paul. You know what team has a lot of young talent developing? The 1-18, historically bad Jersey Nets. You know how the Grizzlies or Pistons are doing? They're 8-12 and 7-12, respectively. I'm taking their opinions with a fairly large grain of salt.

So what does this all mean? It means AI will perform at an All-Star level the rest of this season. Believe it. It means the 76ers, attracting new fans and finding their games televised, will resign him for a few more years, where he'll continue to play at an elite level. It means AI will retire in Philly, surrounded by adoring fans.

It means that while there are (very few) players better than Iverson, or players that have had more success in basketball, there's no one more important as a man.

Proof? Easy: Find an old picture of Jordan while he was playing. Now take a look at Melo and Wade and Bron. Look at the sleeves they wear, the arms full of tattoos, the headbands and the black socks.

Now you tell me, who are they really emulating? The bald man with the shorts above the knees who won it all? Or the man who stayed true to himself?

That's why Iverson's my favorite player, in any sport. That's why I say the man is more than the accomplishment. Iverson may not get his chip, that doesn't matter. A Championship Ring only validates those who need validation.


Starting next week, Allen Iverson gets to start his fairy tale ending. And that's worth celebrating.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Transcendence Through Ascension


I've been talking about the Pacquiao-Cotto fight on Saturday since it happened with my friends, trying to get at what exactly it is about Manny that we've never seen before.

Here's what's verifiable: No one has ever done what Manny accomplished this past weekend, winning his 7th title in seven different weight classes. Neither has anyone moved up in weight - Manny started as a teenager around 100 pounds, has a natural weight of around 135, and fought Cotto at 145 - so easily and retained their speed while adding power of this ferocity.

In his last two fights Pacquiao has boxed men purported to be dangerous; bigger and tougher than himself. Both times he annihilated these men so comprehensively replaying the fight makes it seem like neither belong in the ring with him. It's utterly incredible. There's nothing in sports that's analogous to what Manny is doing right now in boxing.

Miguel Cotto is younger than Manny, stronger and heavier, a powerful puncher who dissembles men in the ring, wearing down opponents with counter punches and body shots. Cotto is a quiet, serious man, he's dedicated and focused and wears an expression of concentration so frequently it's a wonder how he sleeps. If you caught the HBO 24/7 series before the fight, it's also clear that Cotto is, for lack of a better way to describe it, a good dude. An admirable man. Boxing gets littered with personalities who exist to glorify themselves, Cotto's boxing acumen is as removed from that selfishness as Mariano Riveria is from showboating. He's in excellent shape, devoted and hungry and the only time he has lost previous to Saturday was against a boxer who had illegally weighted his gloves to increase his power (allegedly, but only technically so).


And for the last half of the title fight, Cotto ran backwards to avoid Manny. If the 4th round had lasted 30 more seconds, he would have been knocked out then. It was enormously one-sided. In the latter rounds, Pacquiao stops chasing him and waits at center ring, where Cotto approaches him as a zebra would a lion. Finally in the 12th Pacquiao catches Cotto in the corner and before he can even unload the fight is called, something Cotto's father and trainer both wanted to happen rounds before. Cotto afterwards will say he couldn't even see where the punches were coming from, and he's never fought anyone like Pacquiao.

Watch the fight. Even if you don't like boxing, even if you've never enjoyed a fight. Manny Pacquiao has made me a boxing fan, shown a purity of sport I didn't know could exist. Choose one of his last three fights, and you'll see things no one but Pacquiao has ever done.

Watch the entrance to any fight, his entrance to Hatton, to De La Hoya, to Cotto: Manny is smiling. Fucking smiling, like a wedding day, ear-to-ear, exuberant, ebullient smile. Have you ever seen that before? Pick a fight and see the boxer, whomever it is, play loud, angry music as he walks up, frowning from the effort of seriousness, devoting his energy towards darker purposes, to hurting another man, to wanting to knock him out. Every single time I've seen anyone walk into a ring they've done so in a range that goes from solemn to vengeful. And yet here we have Manny, tapping gloves with fans, nodding towards people in the stands, grinning from the fun of it.

Now watch the Hatton fight. Manny is a leftie, his right hand never considered a worthwhile threat. But in preparation, his coach (the rightfully hyperbole laden Freddie Roach) and Manny developed a right hook to counter Hatton. Noticing Hatton telegraphs certain punches, Manny and Roach devise a strategy, you can see it clearly in the first knock down of the fight: Pacquiao sees a cocked fist and throws his own right hand while simultaneously ducking the punch Hatton showed. Pacquiao lands his right on Hatton's face and is immediately bent at the waist so quickly that Hatton doesn't even touch him, Hatton's momentum takes him to the ground. (the third picture is that exact sequence against Cotto, Pacquiao completely under his fists) It's amazing. Pacquiao sees an incoming punch, throws his own in retaliation, lands it, and is already out of the way as his opponent extends his arm. There isn't a fighter in history faster than Manny, but Manny isn't just world class fast, he's strong with knockout power in either fist now and technically sound and expertly coached and has body control that Olympian gymnasts envy. At the end of the first round against Hatton (the fight only lasts two rounds), Hatton tries at the bell to throw a roundhouse, Pacquiao completely ducks it, and for a split second after the bell rings Hatton looks at Pacquiao and just seethes, frustrated into rage because he can't even touch him.

Now watch the Cotto fight. Not to watch Cotto get dismantled, because though he does, he's an exceptional man fighting as hard as he can. Cotto doesn't deserve the beating he gets. In the first few rounds, before the knockdown in the 4th, Pacquiao evidences his uniqueness clearly: Pacquiao throws and gets in close, letting Cotto take some shots, seeing if he can take the hard punches, measuring the opponent. But he doesn't do it out of arrogance or to brag, he does it to test himself, to see if he can take a welterweight's heavy hands against his coach's plan, in the corner Freddie Roach tells him "Prove you can do it," and Manny does. Watch, Pacquiao gets hit and nods towards Cotto, comes in, puts his gloves up and lets Cotto unleash. Manny gets hit, throws his hands out from his sides, telling Cotto to fight, relishing the challenge. Manny lets his fist go, landing combinations, gets counterpunched, and tilts his gloves towards himself, telling Cotto to keep fighting. No one does that! You'll see fighters dancing or taunting, you will never see a fighter in the biggest fight of his life openly imploring his opponent to fight his best.

That's what it is about Manny, the Smiling Warrior, that captivates. He's infectiously joyous, a virtuoso so brilliant he's inspiring. Boxing demands devotion beyond normal capacity, even within that parameter Manny's fealty to the sport is breathtaking. Manny exists at the absolute limit of human capacity, but his miracle is the exultation with which he does it. He's not Jordan, doomed to a life of petty grudges and revenge in order to reach his pinnacle, he's something else entirely. Watching Manny Pacquiao in the ring, shimmering with energy, jubilant, is to witness a completeness of purpose - a totality of being - that's beautiful in its transcendence. You will never see anything like him again.