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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Manny Pacquiao is the Greatest


words to come later on, too astounded to put together sentences right now. Wow.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Casually, Confidently Dominant



"The fans were pretty rowdy early on in the game. I noticed later on that a lot of people left."

-Chase Utley

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Personality Goes A Long Way


Other alternatives we discussed to the above caption:

"How to stop worrying and love the syringe"

"See, Barry, why couldn't you just not be an ass your whole life?"

"They call me Mister Clutch"

"Wise Can't Save You Now"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

You Can Count On Your Fingers and Toes

The amount of times this has happened in professional baseball

EDIT: I had to find another source after the predictable MLB/YouTube blackout that always happens for some stupid reason. Like MLB is losing millions of dollars by letting fans post highlights? It's ridiculous. Baseball needs to go the way the NBA did, embracing the highlight-friendly youtube and maybe putting up their own channel with HQ vids. Whom do I email to correct this.

POST SCRIPT: The "fingers and toes" title here refers to the total amount of times an unassisted triple play has happened, that's a total of 15 right now. But if you want to take it even further, it's only the second time in baseball history a game has ended with an unassisted triple play. And the first time when that game served as an accurate and devastating metaphor for the relationship between the teams competing against each other.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Mini Highlight Reel

Just a couple videos to pass the day:

The Mets' season highlight:

.com/'>Sports Videos at Today's Big Thing.

And what is probably going to be the best defensive play of the 2009 season, Mr. Wise:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Unraveling the String Theory


One of the sports sites I check with regular frequency is With Leather, a WWTDD-type of blog with the sports news of the day posted. They're fast, funny, and have a scope wide enough for random soccer riots to get a posting every now and again. It's a good site.

But fuck them for this post.

I already went to the comment section and scribbled something furiously in retort (try and guess which is mine!). Allow me here to give a wider comment.

There is no unifying, grand cosmic theory on the players who have been caught using PEDs. There is no use or sense in trying to figure out who has and who hasn't done steroids in speculative and affection-type terms. Meaning, don't act surprised that (your favorite dude) used some PEDs because he's your dude, or throw out a name (Frank Thomas!) just to wonder about. That's useless. PEDs and 'Roids specifically and known to have precise results; it's why Sosa and McGwire and Bonds and Clemens all sort of got bigger heads and seemed sweaty and furrowed-brow'd a lot of the time, why their stats in the middle age of their lives all increased in violation of God's Grand Will.

Why am I telling WithLeather to go perform physically impossible acts on itself?, you may ask, given that I just pretty much agreed with their premise that you can't presume someone's innocent.

Because they named Griffey. And I will not tolerate that shit. Yeah, it is stupid to assume someone didn't use PEDs for no good reason. Thinking that the Kid was/is PED-free, though, is far from stupid.

I'm not the first to say it, but I'll say it again; Griffey is pretty much at the top of everyone's Never Did Steroids List, for a few reasons.

He was Bonds' contemporary, first of all, and when you compare the career arcs of the two men who were, at their onset, reasonably similarly matched in terms of skill-sets and personal backgrounds, it's pretty clear that Bonds violated Nature's Law somewhere along the way. Whereas Griffey faded for a bit, languishing in the Natti and succumbing to various injuries, Bonds went nuclear, destroying any semblance of records and claiming what he always wanted for his own: the record. So Junior looks practically Sainted in comparison.


Secondly, Griffey famously didn't "work out" in the traditional sense of the term, e.g. going to the weight room and lifting metal plates over and over again. Steroids and PEDs are primarily used to augment the lifting process, to help speed the muscle recovery time and get you back in the gym faster, pushing your body to levels the normal cycles of muscle growth would never allow. So there's a book, Junior: Griffey on Griffey, published in 1997 as a window into the phenomenom of Mr. Ken Griffey Jr. It's a high gloss, 11" by 14" Walter Ioss-photographed affair, filled with (some really beautiful) pictures of spring training and game moments, along with some locker room and home-life type stuff, then sparse passages written or dictated by Griffey fill the other space. For the 16 year old Griffey fan I was, it was crack. There's not too much text, but even back then I remembered this passage as being remarkable:
"Most people think they have to use the off-season to get stronger by lifting weights or running ten miles a day. I know what I have to do and that's stay flexible. It doesn't matter how strong you are. If you can only move 7 inches either way, then you're not going to hit the ball out of the ballpark. Now if you can move 35 inches, then you're going to have the proper leverage and quickness to knock the ball out of the park. I'm probably one of the most flexible guys on our team. I'm not that strong. I probably only bench-press about 200 pounds, but I focus on keeping myself as flexible as possible."

Keep in mind this is written in 1997, when Ken probably knew of the PED culture and had probably already been given offered every PED imaginable. There's also a quote, which I'll paraphrase, about how he never really works on his swing, explaining he knows what to do and how to get there, he just needs to visualize. It was all humble and self aggrandizing at the same time and really just supports the obvious conclusion that Griffey was a phenom, plain and simple. There are seminal, important athletes in all sports, and Junior is one of them. Mays was one of them. Brown was one of them. It's just how it is. Griffey was a world class player two years before he could buy a glass of alcohol.

The injuries Griffey suffered, that have been chronicles relentlessly, are the injuries of a man whose body was stressed from baseball. He shattered his right wrist during a game, and many inside baseball attribute the various lower body injuries to playing his young career on the concrete-like Kingdom floor. (The other topic, that Griffey fell short of his true potential by missing so much playing time, is so stupid and merit-less and infuriating that my fists sort of involuntarily clench when it's breached as a subject)


Look, I'm not arguing for Griffey because I love him as a player. (I still use the PRO-TB24 Rawlings Pro-Preferred Griffey baseball glove [in beer-league softball now], even though I never played the outfield, just because I aped his style). I acknowledge this bias. I'm arguing for Griffey as a non PED user because it doesn't make any goddamned baseball sense.

Back in the day, when Brady Anderson had a year that qualifies as "of course" on the levels-of suspiciousness chart, he gave interviews about working out, in addition to posing for posters that the gay community adored. There was a bit about how the great Cal Ripken never lifted, how he'd be throwing guys around in the clubhouse, but when they got in the weight room Brady was out lifting him easily. It's because baseball isn't a game where being a weight lifter is intrinsically worthwhile. Brady, of course, flamed out of the game relatively quickly, while Cal broke records for durability. Cal was both lucky and a world class athlete. Brady, for a season, cheated his way to half of that equation.

There's a contradiction here, I know. JnM has long said we don't care about steroids/PEDs - and we don't. The villans in this Steroid Scandal are the players we just hate anyway: Bonds only had a handful of San Franciscan Contrarians supporting him while he hacked away at the record books, and Clemens and A Rod really don't seem to have anyone who actively likes them. (Really and seriously about that last guy - are there any actual Rodriguez fans? What are the numbers on his jersey sales?) Steroids, in those cases, gives us an easy way to make fun of guys who seem and act for all intents like giant douche bags. It's worth noting that both Rodriguez and Clemens frosted the tips of their hair. Sosa and McGwire are hoisted on their own petard, claiming innocence that common sense and visual evidence rebuts. Giambi and Pettitte get by with admissions of honesty, and Manny, like the pig in Pulp Fiction, has a ton of charisma and character; he's a damn rock star. Ortiz is shocking because he's a fat guy, and he has a lot of fans - he doesn't adhere to the standards of physical evidence we look for, and we like him, so we don't care as much. As far as Griffey goes, part of his appeal has always been the shooting-star aspect of his talent. Hell, the first cover of SI he appeared on was titled "The Natural." Accusing Griffey of this type of thing insults the history of his career and is just too counter-intuitive for me to let go.

The las thing I'll say here - thanks for hanging in! - is in response to the end of the article, where it's stated that Steroids are the only thing keeping Baseball in the National Consciousness. That's just stupid. It's clearly the issue that gets the most attention, from the MSM and bloggers alike, but it's not the only thing keeping baseball there. Baseball has been there for more than a hundred years. But there are 162 games during the season, and a lot of them happen during the summer when everyone's too busy trying to not kill themselves for being in an office while the weather is so beautiful. And it's impossible for anything subtle or day to day to grab focus in the 24 hour news cycle the Sports Media has become. So unless it's something everyone can argue about, it doesn't get to the front page. That's all well and good. So then, don't pretend like because Baseball doesn't get the foam-at-the-mouth/obsessive to the point of parody fans that football gets makes Baseball irrelevant. The attendance numbers for Baseball are incredible, the ratings are solid, the game is doing well. Don't toss Baseball under a bus because you're an idiot.


Kung Fu Panda

We here at JnM hereby do officially add Pablo Sandoval to the list of players we love


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

For The Defense

Simmons gets Iverson right:

To Iverson. The general consensus: His career as an effective player is over. How did we reach that conclusion? I have no idea. He averaged nearly 27 a game two seasons ago in Denver. Soon after opening night, Denver traded him to declining Detroit, where he was forced to play in a new system for a bad coach, and GM Joe Dumars soon made it clear Detroit traded for Iverson's expiring contract (and not for Iverson himself). When the situation inevitably self-combusted and the Pistons asked Iverson to come off the bench, he "coincidentally" came down with a back injury, and that was that. Meanwhile, Billups turned Denver around, enabling people to stupidly make the connection that Billups was wonderful and Iverson was the anti-Christ. Now everyone is afraid to sign him.

My first question: If we're writing off Iverson for the previous paragraph, why aren't we writing off Rasheed -- just as enigmatic, just as much of a volcano, just as much of a coach killer over the years -- when Sheed played worse than Iverson did last season?

My second question: Since when was it a good idea to bet against Iverson? Name another NBA player who overcame more obstacles over the years. For ESPN's "30 For 30" documentary series that premieres this fall, one of the first films is called "The Trial of Allen Iverson" (directed by Steve James of "Hoop Dreams" fame). I have only seen a rough cut. It has a chance to become one of the most important sports documentaries ever. Why? Because you will never think of Iverson the same way again. You will like him. You will feel bad for him. You will connect with him. You will admire him in a way you never imagined. After witnessing what he endured legally and racially -- how unfair it was, how un-American it was -- and marveling at the dignity he showed as he put his life back together afterward, I promise, you will never bet against this guy.

A few weeks ago, Iverson gave a speech in Virginia to promote his scholarship program. It was one of the best three minutes of the sports year. You probably didn't hear about it because the sports media and the blogosphere is more interested in talking about Brett Favre, Michael Vick, civil suits, how ESPN is the devil and everything else. Occasionally, some relevant stuff slips through the cracks. Such as this clip (below), for instance. Please watch it, then tell me why everyone is so willing to count out one of the best 30 basketball players of all time, as well as one of the greatest pure athletes in the history of sports, at the tender age of 34 when he has something to prove. We have not heard the last from him. Just wait.

I'll admit a bias towards AI, he's my favorite athlete of all time. And I know sometimes the Sports Guy is a little much. But he's right on about AI as a person, and this clip speaks to why I admire Iverson.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Bat Trick Friday

Josh Womack is at it again.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Baseball Infographics

Awesome Baseball Infographics from Flip Flop Flyball.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bat Trick Wednesday

Long Beach Armada outfielder Josh Womack showing off his bat-swinging skills at training camp earlier this year.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Actual Conversations at First Base: Excerpts

Here at Joy in Mudville, we are privy to some fairly classified information coming out of the Big Leagues. One of us is actually an insider at MLB's recently established Transcription Office, which records and transcribes what players say while on the diamond. The following are actual conversations from the past few seasons, recorded at the most chat-fertile intersection on the field: first base. (Thanks to Clinton for his assistance.)


Manny Ramirez: "Dios mio, you look like that tío from The Green Mile."
Ryan Howard: "You think I look like Michael Clarke Duncan?"
Ramirez: "Oh sí, sí. Remember that scene in Daredevil when Ben Affleck told you to stay out of Hell's Kitchen?"
Howard: "I remember seeing it I guess. I'm not Michael Clarke Duncan. I'm Ryan Howard."
Ramirez: "Creo que no. Remember when you voiced Big Daddy in The Land Before Time XI?"
Howard: "Bro, I'm Ryan Howard. You know me, man. Are you on something?"
Ramirez: "No te conozco, hombre. Remember in The Island when they cloned you for your liver?"
Howard: "Strikeout! Thank god this inning is over."


Albert Pujols: "Oops, almost got you there, you silly man. You tried to steal the base. Not this time, my friend."
Hanley Ramirez: "It is true. My plan to move from this base to that base has been foiled. Good grief."
Pujols: "Praise Jesus, I now have more time to spend with a formidable colleague."
Ramirez: "Oh yes, it’s always a pleasure to be with you."
Pujols: ...
Ramirez: "Goodness, Albert, it appears you have a button undone there on your uniform."
Pujols: "Oh dear, where?" [looks down]
Ramirez: "Huzzah!" [steals second]


Derrek Lee: "Did I see you reading a book in the dugout?"
Paul LoDuca: "You did. 'The Wholehearted Way,' by Eihei Dogen."
Lee: "You were reading about Soto Zen before your at bat."
LoDuca: "Yeah, Coach Jackson gives us all a book to read during the season."
Lee: "Coach Jackson?"
LoDuca: "I got Dogen, Kobe got Thich Nhat Hanh. Not sure what Fisher got."
Lee: "Kobe and Fisher? You're describing the Lakers. You play on the Mets."
LoDuca: "If I weren't meditating right now I'd punch you in the goddamn face."


Rick Ankiel: "Hey Prince, you lost weight since the second inning?"
Prince Fielder: "I hope so. I puked six times during the last pitching change."
Ankiel: "Jesus Christ, why?"
Fielder: "Why do you think? My weight is constantly scrutinized and ridiculed. So I'm experimenting with bulimia."
Ankiel: "You can't 'experiment' with bulimia, it's a serious eating disorder."
Fielder: "Don't play semantics with me, pretty boy. I'll do whatever it takes. I've had enough."
Ankiel: "Your nose is bleeding."

Twins Tigers Baseball

Umpire: "Saw you at Angels & Demons last weekend."
Justin Morneau: "That right? What did you think?"
Umpire: "Provided a few cheap thrills, I guess, but the portrayal of antimatter was insultingly un-scientific."
Morneau: "I profoundly disagree. The picture did an admirable job alluding to the CP-violation by invoking how the Large Hadron Collider collides lead nuclei at an energy of 574 TeV per nucleus."

Umpire: "That's irrelevant. CP-symmetry notwithstanding, the film grossly oversimplifies the LHC by focusing on antimatter. It is anticipated that the collider will demonstrate the existence of the elusive Higgs boson, where two quarks each emit a W or Z boson. The relationship to antimatter was purposefully stretched to countenance the plot's clunky artifice."
Morneau: "That's a criticism of the plot, not the scientific merit of utilizing antimatter as a viable yet dangerous fuel source. In collisions between antimatter and matter, the mass of the particles is converted to kinetic energy. The energy per unit mass is four orders of magnitude greater than energy released via nuclear fission!"
Umpire: "You ever seen Joe Mauer naked?"


Kevin Youkilis: "Oh hey, Bennie, how’s your mother?"
Ben Zobrist: "Hi Kevin, thanks for asking. My mother is actually doing really well. She’s goi–"
Youkilis: "Yeah who gives a shit?"
Zobrist: "That’s a great point. I didn’t think of it that way. You’re absolutely rig–"
Youkilis: "Hey, you know what they used to call me before I was the Greek God of Walks?"
Zobrist: "Did they call you Mr. Youkilis? Ha ha, uh."
Youkilis: ...
Zobrist: ...
Youkilis: "They called me the Greek God of Fucking Your Mom."
Zobrist: "That’s great. LOL."
Youkilis: "Did you just say 'LOL'?"
Zobrist: "Yes."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Flaws In The System


One of my favorite sports writers, the Honorable William Leitch has put up a column saying exactly what I had started to write about Rhoden and the All Star Game before I caught his tweet and had to abandon it. It's worth your time.

To that end, I've decided that JnM supports unequivocally the candidacy of Manny Ramirez for the 2009 All Star Game.

The thinking here (background is detailed better in this post) is that the wholesale support of Mr. Ramirez by the fans will end (at least in a small way) the constant focus and attention on PEDs like steroids, and help us move along to greener pastures. I'm not saying it won't end the controversy of Manny; moreso that if we get a few million people electing a player caught using a testosterone supplement to the All Star Game as a starter, it might help the media focus itself on issues we actually care about. To vote, head over to MLB's homepage and click on the upper-right All Star Game 2009 graphic - you can vote up to 25 times!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hail The King





Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Falling Into Place


Apologies, my dear readers, are in order. These NBA playoffs have been all-consuming in my household, and the lack of updates from me has been inexcusable. Now that the finals are sorted, I'm back on the horse. Expect more. Stay thirsty. Etc.

Watching the NBA Playoffs has driven home how happy I am with Baseball. The NBA seems to exist as a counter to its own sport; I'm suspicious whether or not Stern even fundamentally likes the game. The talk around every water cooler has been how poor the referees have been in calling the playoffs, but the more interesting aspect to me has been how badly the NBA misunderstands its own fans - watching the games you're absolutely bludgeoned with propaganda, over and over and over, reminding you that the NBA Cares and these courts are where Amazing Happens and it's patently ridiculous. I'll speak for most fans when I say I don't give a shit how much time Lamar Odom spends at a free basketball camp for kids or how often Rip Hamilton spoons food to the destitute in Detroit (a redundancy, I know). What I would like is for a game that is timed at exactly 48 minutes to end in less time than a Lord of the Rings movie. Is it really fundamentally important that the players put on nice clothes? Stern seems intent on polishing the brass; his concern is really deeply racial. He has to "sell" big athletic (mostly) black men to the whole of White America, and he's missing the point. Those swayed by the propaganda are too stupid and too small a minority to matter, and those who need proof of Wallace's mandated kindheartedness won't go to games regardless. America deserves its share of time in the corner, but by and large, we can deal with the complexities of individuals who play basketball. (And if you can't, then go pick up a People Magazine or watch something on E!) What Stern has done is like a vegan who makes a decent tasting vegan version of a dish - maybe a chocolate cake - and brags over and over, "It tastes just like a regular cake! And there's no animal products in it!"

Yeah, but: Who the hell wants vegan cake?

Referees are calling games like prison wardens afraid that is they take a finger off the trigger the inmates will burn the building to the ground. Look at this play - Howard is whistled for a technical foul for exulting after a pretty amazing finish. This is illegal, according to Stern. Notice too on the same play Varejao, for whom I have complete and utter contempt, tackles Howard from behind. The NBA is arguably at its apex in terms of talented players, and the Stern-mandated focus has resulted in a game that acts as weights on the ankles of these players. Shit, if I were Howard, I would have stood over Varejao and yelled for a few minutes. It's a damn game, and it's getting harder to wade through the pile of bureaucratic nonsense to enjoy it.


With that as preamble, how can we not appreciate baseball all the more? Rick Riley, apparently missing the irony in a golfer bored by the slow speed of baseball, has excreted a column I refuse to link to about how he'd change baseball if he were commissioner. One such idea is to install a clock to make sure pitchers take less time between pitches, to which I humbly say: stick it up your ass, Riley. He also thinks similarly to Stern in that he believes throwing at a player is a capital offense; fans of the game know better. Baseball doesn't need rule changes (Other than the start time for playoff games being moved up - is it wrong for an important game to be played in daylight? And that's not even a rule thing. See?). Attendance is down incrementally from last year, but it's mostly due to the economy, and on the whole most teams are doing well. Playing 162 games means that the total figures for people watching games in person absolutely annihilates the other three major team sports, and if you're making a joke about Hockey not being a major sport, then let's go ahead and be friends.

There's an obvious timelessness about baseball that has an appeal for a huge swatch of people. This gives the powers that be - whatever my/your objections with Selig are - reign to actually promote the sport, and they're doing a pretty damn good job at it. I'm specifically referring a few of Major League Baseball's official venues to fandom - MLB.TV, the DirecTV Extra Innings, and, most relevant of all, the MLB iPhone App. For those of you with an iPhone and even a passing interest in baseball, go buy it. Right now. Find the ten dollars, or skip any takeout meal you'll buy today, and you'll thank me for it, I promise. Because this thing is amazing. Up to the second scores, complete game coverage, video highlights, end-of-game summary videos, stats, pitch-by-pitch diagrams... it's all a little much, in a completely positive way. My favorite feature is definitely the radio. Each in-progress game has a link to audio, which will play a radio announcer's call of the game. Which announcer? Well, you get to choose that, because the App lets you pick which team's radio man to listen to. It's incredible. Given that you can buy an iPhone for like 100 bucks, it's probably worth a new phone by itself

APTOPIX Brewers Cardinals Baseball

If this seems like the entire post has existed for the sole reason of praising MLB's employees, then I'm sorry; it's only a third that.

Baseball has its problems, of course. PEDs are becoming a monomaniacal obsession of those that cover the game, for one, and this in turns upsets all the old hats. We have the Joe Morgan versus Common Sense fight-to-the-death. There's no shortage of issues to talk about; salary caps, owners, seat licenses, beer costs or whatever else it may be. But as the NFL scratches for the bottom floor, the NBA fights its own players and the NHL slowly becomes a niche sport, I'm appreciating more and more the simple archaic perfection of baseball as it finds its way through our modern filtration systems.

Meanwhile, this season has started to get interesting. My unseen post on the Blue Jays and their hideous efficiency has become a moot point, and the players the Yankees bought to perform in the summer months are doing just that. It helps they play in a wind tunnel blowing out of right field, but still. We have a few interesting divisional struggles, a sudden deluge in players with mental handicaps, the return of Justin Verlander, the utter disaster in Washington, Grienke's ascension, the pitching staff of the Giants against their batters, the implosion in Tampa, the rise of the Marlins, the coronation of Pujols, the 300th win of the second most unlikeable man in baseball, and hundreds of others.

Amazing is happening right here, damn it.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Polite Discussion of Terms



Hot damn do I love Carlos Zambrano

edit: Now with bigger, juicier pictures and video! (as long as MLB doesn't notice):

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Dart Through the Dime


First off, to those of you who check JnM regularly enough to know our output has been lacking, thanks for doing so. Within the week expect a treatise on the toast of the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays. And soon we'll be back to our normally updating schedule - Mondays and Thursdays.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to bring attention to some gorgeous new NBA commercials from Adidas. These were done in collaboration with Free Darko; both the look and the stylistic commentary are copped from their book. The commercials - the second of which is my favorite - are embedded here, but feel free to jump over to FD to read their post and maybe cop some merchandise (this shirt and this print are both worthy of praise) to support the good work they do.

Friday, May 8, 2009

See the Ball, Hit the Ball

Before I get into this, I should say that JnM is by no means a reactionary, angry site. We're for baseball, for the people who play it, for the foibles and the eccentricities and the human bits that make it all worth watching. For new visitors, it might be worth checking out our Ethos, and maybe skimming one or two of our other posts to get a sense of what we're about. Note in first link how Ramirez is listed as a player who exemplifies what we love about the sport. We've said from the beginning that steroids aren't as big a deal as they're presented to be by the media at large, and that the numerology in baseball can be as much of a burden as it can an asset. So when a player who embodies so much of the good in baseball gets hoisted out on a skewer by yet another irresponsible columnist holding aloft his personal code of ethics as the Truth, I think we should say something.

Jayson Stark's new article about Manny Ramirez's suspension is up and can be found here. You should probably read it before continuing.

Every single part of that article is horseshit. Complete and utter horseshit. Starting with the first sentence, where Stark decides to start his article burying Manny with a grand statement about being proud to be an American and proud to be amongst such a forgiving populace, continuing to the last, where he says it'll take more than his (Manny's) hair and his bat to earn forgiveness. It's horseshit because it's built on a faulty premise and is thus fallacious; that Manny doesn't deserve to be forgiven because he didn't take on the full brunt of the blame in his apology. The people who have done this and have been forgiven (deservedly) apparently begins and ends with Pettitte. There's not another name listed, though Stark infers there are others. These people who have been forgiven were so absolved because they took their punishment like a man. It's a ridiculous idea that misses the point completely.

I don't want to step on the toes of upcoming posts we'll do about steroids, but I've never felt that juicing is enough to warrant a tarring-and-feathering. It's just not that simple. Even for a player like Rodriguez, whose use was/is more a statement of insecurity than anything else, and whom I don't even care for, the Steroids is an insignificant event; more interesting for the psychological implication it makes about him than the padded stats. So while I may think it's not a big deal regardless of the player, Stark clearly does. On his own terms, then: Manny was caught with a female fertility drug that raised the amount of testosterone in his body. Pettitte used Human Growth Hormone to heal his pitching arm. In simple black and white terms, Pettitte's was the greater baseball sin. It's not even close. Also worth noting is that Manny has passed at least a dozen tests for illegal substances in the last few years, and given the nature of steroids, its benefits and consequences on the body, combined with Manny's strengths as a player, it's pretty reasonable to say that there's no real reason to suspect he's had a history of juicing. Bill Simmons, of course, takes a maudlin approach when he contemplates the cataclysmic repercussions of Manny taking some pills, and though he's more realistic about what steroids mean in a general way, somehow Ramirez's failed test causes him to lose his shit. He's wrong, too, but his is a more personal disappointment and while he misses the point - Manny and Ortiz still were the Ruth and Gehrig of our time - his last sentence sort of gets it right. Everyone's cheating.

Baseball is a game of cheating, though. Stealing signs and steroids, whether to win a game or prolong a career, are all part of it. So when Simmons says "Everyone was cheating back then," he's half wrong. Everyone has always been cheating.

Back to Stark. There's a weird sort of fascist bent to whole article's chiding. Stark darkly intones that Manny's reputation before this suspension is enough cause to throw him overboard; whereas Pettitte's stellar history renders him easier to forgive. This is where I take the most umbrage. You see, whereas Stark seems to think Manny has no fans, that his behavior is sinister and his past unforgivable, I see it the other way. This play, for better or worse, sums up what I love about Manny. He's a ridiculous, child-like person; he leaves the field to pee in the middle of a game, wears sunglasses with earbuds in them during warm ups, he doesn't seem to be taking any of it seriously, ever. There are a thousand other examples of this, and anytime an expression is coined to explain a person (Manny being Manny), you can rest assured there's a pattern of behavior. But Manny's acts aren't childish; they, as I said just now, are child-like. And the joy Manny has for baseball is obvious. Witness his slump busting homerun against the A's a few years ago in the playoffs, where he stood back and admired his hit for far too long, and you won't see a player rubbing his excellence in his opponent's faces. You'll see a player watching the ball go over the wall, finding his swing again.

Manny is one of the top 2 or 3 right handed hitters in the history of baseball. He's a World Series MVP, he's clutch, and a dozen other positive adjectives that I can't list here. Moreso than that, though, he's wholly himself and authentic. He has style and verve and swagger and is one of the handful of players that I would steal money to use to watch him play. That is why he'll be forgiven. Not because we're his parents and we decide punishment, or our ideals of purity and sanctity have been compromised. That's stupid, and where Stark is fundamentally most wrong.

I'll wait for Manny to come back because Manny is a baseball player: One who plays a game. That he does so in accordance with his own head rather than some fictionalized utopia a sportswriter dreams of is all the better. I'd wish to everyone that they find the happiness and excellence in their own jobs or hobbies that Manny Ramirez has in baseball.

So, Jayson Stark, we here at Joy in Mudville posit that you (along with Plaschke and his typically completely ludicrous response, and a number of other ESPN talking heads), are completely and totally wrong about this. And if you think for a moment that baseball is more about Pettitte than it is about Manny - that we're watching the game for Andy's dour expressions or impassive mein - then you can take your ball and go home.

The rest of us will be happy to fill the stands.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Burn, Basepaths, Burn!

Another assortment of quasi-organized thoughts from our foreign correspondent and has-been jersey taxidermist, Blylevin's Beard.

Did you see Jacoby Ellsbury steal home against the Yankees?! I mean, wow! Sorry, I’m excited, and I’ve gotten way ahead of myself. I’m gonna back it up, like a lot, and seemingly switch topics entirely, but I beg of you, please bear with me. Because that steal of home was awesome.

Barry Bonds had eclipsed perhaps the most treasured record in all of sports, a feat responded to by Hank Aaron with predictable grace, and by Bud Selig with predictable weaseliness, and by the American public with all the enthusiasm of a car owner paying for new brake pads, Major League Baseball blackballed him. They shut him out, hoped he’d shut up, and directed our attention to Alex Rodriguez, the clean-shaven-former-teen-phenom, the pinstripe-clad golden boy at the height of his considerable powers, destined to restore the shine on the newly-tarnished Home Run Throne. And then it turned out that he’d tested positive for ‘roids while a Ranger. And some new book clams that he may have been juicing as far back as his high school days, and has played with needles while in a Yankee uniform, too. Oh yeah, and while in Texas he allegedly tipped pitches to opposing batters in hopes of getting the favor returned – selling out his teammates for an infinitesimal boost to his own stat line. To put it bluntly, this is a bonafide shitstorm. And this time, the MLB can’t slug their way out of it.

The tradition of enticing disillusioned fans back to the ballpark with the promise of dingers aplenty stretches back to baseball’s seminal shitstorm, the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. The following year, umpires began cracking down on spitters (and emeryballs, and goopballs, and snotballs...) and introducing fresh balls once those in use got scuffed up, dramatically tipping the scales in favor of hitters: ergo, the dawn of the "Live Ball Era." The Babe became The Guy, and was soon joined by the likes of Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx and Mel Ott in reeling fans back in by knocking more and more pitches out of the park.

Most recently, of course, the “Problems? What problems? Check out this 500-foot blast!” method was employed following the disgusting/depressing 1994 strike. At the pinnacle of this swing stands the McGwire-Sosa derby of 1998, but those two certainly weren’t alone in the effort: Bonds, Griffey, Sheffield, Matt Williams, hell, even Jason Priestley, er, I mean Brady Anderson, got on the Round-Tripper Trolley! Only this time around, it wasn’t decreased levels of vaseline on the ball making everybody homer-happy; it was increased levels of testosterone in the players. Baseball’s best and brightest in the post-strike era weren’t “farm-boy strong” a la Enos Slaughter and Mickey Mantle, they were rapidly morphing into Lou Ferrigno lookalikes, and it wasn’t because of the new Nautilus machine in the clubhouse, either, and everybody knew it, but they thought the party would last forever, and then it blew up in MLB’s face, and that pretty much brings us to the shitstorm at hand.

So like I said, with Barry long-beyond-tainted and A-Rod newly-tainted, it’s become clear that the longball won’t cure what’s currently ailing baseball. To my great delight, however, it appears that what will is a return to old-school, Senior Circuit speed-and-defense baseball. Once again, did see Jacoby Ellsbury steal home against the Yankees?! How about Carl Crawford’s sextet of steals against the Red Sox. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when Ryan Howard gets ahold of one, too, but he does so once every 15 at-bats or so. Jimmy Rollins’ wheels, on the other hand, are on display in every inning of every game he plays. So I say give me more Emilio Bonifacio inside-the-parkers, more Ichiro Suzuki stop-on-a-dime bunts, more Reed Johnson diving catches, more of Hanley Ramirez on the rise and Juan Pierre on the rebound [Ed: This last one's not going to happen. Live in the now, Beard]. Give me the second coming of Vince “Firecrackers Ahoy!” Coleman and the Redbirds of the mid-‘80s, with a lineup full of switch-hitting, count-working, drag-bunting, hit-and-run-executing speed demons who somehow found a way to make baseball played on turf a glorious thing.

Let’s put this steroid mess (and all the other baggage A-Rod’s bringing to the table these days) behind us. One stolen base at a time. Speaking of which, did you see Jacoby Ellsbury steal home against the Yankees?!