Friday, July 31

It's Friday

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I Can't Stop Laughing At This

Hard to Hate Rudy Gay as a UConn fan although he was often cited for his lack of "desire" while in Storrs but that really translates as he was more athletic and talented than everyone else. He was a part of that fateful day in DC in '06 when George Mason made history which is a bitter pill. But I guess the fact that he is now in Memphis softens any animosity. Any man willing to stop and pose for this picture is aces with me. Whenever I'm down in days ahead I am going to look at this picture to cheer me up. I love the star trying desperately through its oversized yellow glove to form a #1 sign.

via Deadspin.

Speaking of comedy, I went and saw a preview of Funny People on Tuesday with Catfish and wrote a review for our friends at Arts a la Mode which you can read here. Funny movie, the plot takes a weird turn but overall a good chuckler.

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FYI: USC Picked To Win Pac Ten

In an amazing shocker, Taylor Mays and company are projected to win the Pac Ten for 8th consecutive year. You might say they could be in trouble for the latest alleged NCAA violations but who are we kidding, the Trojan army has proved impervious to NCAA sanctions. Pete Carroll, the Priam of the program himself thinks he is only "in the middle" of his great run. Perhaps Carroll has done too much praising to the sun god in LA or maybe he knows that while the walls of Troy stand, no NCAA investigator or rival recruiter can break them. There could come a day however, perhaps with the new knowledge that Carroll used a former NFL assistant as a consultant which may be against the rules, when somebody finds a way to bring down the walls of Troy. It has not been all smiles and daisies for USC though, despite going 59-6 the last 5 years, they have only two titles to show for it this decade. With the determination not to be shut out of the national title game this year, USC will once again put all distractions aside and more than likely roll through the Pac Ten. Maybe there is one coach or NCAA official out there intrepid enough to employ the tactic that will bring Carroll and his team down: The Trojan Rabbit.

New commish, coaches in Pac-10, but USC still tops [SportingNews]

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Thursday, July 30

Thursday Links

We took the bronze in our trivia contest last night and we are not too happy about it. The halftime question was mired in controversy and it concerned the longest running sitcoms on television. They told us M*A*S*H was not a sitcom! Lies! Subsequently, I always defer to Sporcle, so you can take the quiz and seethe results for yourself HERE (hint: type in M*A*S*H and see what happens). Some other stories to stuff your swelling soul with on Thursday.

Florida Panthers exec struck out on Millionaire matchmaker, tries creepy I know random facts about you technique on Fox News Anchor. [Deadspin]

Anyone who wants to see Fedor destroy Lesnar in the ring raise your hand. [LA Times]

Cliff Lee is no Roy Halladay, but at least Philadelphia will keep Kyle Drabek this way. [Rumors and Rants]

Brian Urlacher and Jake Cutler work out their "pussy" issues. [KSK]

A look at the greatest goalie masks of all time. []

Uplifting story for Walter Peck time! New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads taking different approach to coaching that Gene Chizik did: I actually give a shit about my players.[Des Moines Register via EDSBS]

We have all been missing college football, I've been missing Mike Leach. [ESPN]

Delaware fighting back on the attack of sports leagues and NCAA to stop the legalization of gambling. Owned, political style! [Yahoo]

A list of Ten Memorable Movie Endings. [Gunaxin]

Pats training camp opens today! /ducks. Yes I know you all hate them but I still have my Drew Bledsoe "Patriot Games" poster on my wall so let's take a look at we need to know about training camp, shall we? [Barstool Sports]

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Tuesday, July 28

Bobcats Trade Their First Ever Draft Pick

In a move that is drawing strong debate by both sides here in Charlotte, the Bobcats have traded Emeka Okafor to the New Orleans Hornets for Tyson Chandler. The argument on the forums over at our friends, Bobcats Planet, has been intense. Sentimentally, I am a UConn fan and a fan of Emeka as a person so this is a hard move to swallow. Catfish has told me the business and economical side of the decision which makes it clearer in the big picture. This move may hurt Charlotte in the short-term depending on Chandler's health but with Okafor's huge contract and Chandler's coming off the books in a couple years, it may be beneficial down the road.

Either way it is hard seeing the face of the young franchise get dealt for an injury-plagued semi-star. While Okafor was never an all-star or a primetime performer, he did win rookie of the year in 2005 and only Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard have averaged a double-double over the last five seasons along with Emeka.

The debate will continue well into next season while the staunch Emeka defenders point to his solid play and the pro-Chandler look to his athleticism, height, and expiring contract.

Okafor for Chandler good deal for Bobcats [Charlotte Observer]
Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler? [Ball Don't Lie]

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Monday, July 27

Sometimes You Forget: The 1993 Blue Jays

While lifting yesterday I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with pitcher Dave Stewart talking about his lifelong friend Rickey Henderson entering the Hall of Fame. Henderson is baseball's all-time leader in lead-off home runs, walks, and runs scored and although he had a reputation as a third-person talker, his induction speech was very elegant. Dave Stewart grew up with Rickey but they also played together and during the course of this particular interview their time in Toronto was discussed. That got me thinking about that team, which participated in one of the more memorable World Series of my youth if not of all-time.

When you step back and look at this team's roster, it is no wonder they were as successful as they were. Much of the team was back from their 1992 World Series victory over the Atlanta Braves but in the off-season they added Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart. Then over the course of the season they traded for shortstop Tony Fernandez and added Rickey Henderson at the trade deadline.

Starting at the top, they were managed by Cito Gaston from 89-97 and is currently their manager. He has over 700 victories in his career and a .529 career post-season win percentage.

The Pitching rotation was headed by Pat Hentgen, who would go 19-9 in '93 and be selected to the all-star game. He would eventually win the 1996 Cy Young award with the Jays. They also had the Jheri Curl wonder before Pedro let his soul glow, Juan Guzman. Many may not remember Juan as he only went 91-79 in his career, but from the early to mid-90s, he was one of the best in baseball. In '93 he went 14-3. The rest of the rotation was Todd Stottlemyre, Stewart, and former World Series MVP Jack Morris. The Jays also had Al Leiter coming out of the pen, and he actually won game 1 of the World Series in '93. Leiter was just coming off arm surgery but contributed. In the closer role, Duane Ward replaced famed closer Tom Henke that year after being his set-up man and saved 45 games.

While the pitching was experienced, it was the offense of Toronto that was so formidable. Jon Olerud and Roberto Alomar were the right side of the infield and hit .363 and .323 respectively. Joe Carter was lead the team in home runs (33) and RBI (121). The acquisition of Paul Molitor did not disappoint as he hit .332 for the Jays. Add speedster Devon White to the top of the lineup and the Blue Jays had a potent scoring machine that was only shut-out once in the regular season. By the time the post-season came around and they had Fernandez and Henderson, it was a difficult line-up to handle. Henderson is the undisputed greatest lead-off hitter of all-time.

It all came together October 23 at the Skydome when the Phillies held a 6-5 ninth inning lead trying to bring the series to seven games. Phillies closer Mitch Williams had to face Henderson, White, Molitor and Carter. Williams, known as "Wild Thing" walked Henderson and then tried to slide step to prevent Rickey from stealing. He got White to fly out but then gave up a single to Molitor(his 12th hit of the series) and the walk-off to Joe Carter. Video of the 9th inning is here, the Carter home run is at 15:30 but the footage of the aftermath is great including the men in early-90s mullets in jubilation, an interview with Phillies manager Jim Fregosi by Jim Gray(lulz) and a melancholic Curt Schilling on the Philly bench. The Blue Jays are the only team besides the Yankees to win back-to-back World Series titles since 1976.

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Friday, July 24

It's A Friday Bonus

(via YBYBY)
Craig Ferguson putting things in proper perspective.

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It's Friday

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ASD Shameless Plug Time!

It's not often we get to promote ourselves for anything on the blog so please excuse. Today at 6:40 pm EST, our very own Catfish is going to be on the local sports radio station here in Charlotte as part of a local contest. Yes, kind of the same format that Baltimore tried months ago to less than stellar results. However, while there were plenty of those in this contest, we are in the second round so much of the boom goes the dynamite material has been washed away. Catfish was one of the best of the early rounds and while there is no fan voting for the winner, tune into 610 AM if you live here in Charlotte, or you can go to this link and click the "listen live" button. Tune in today and support our Catfish!

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You Are Not Prepared For The SEC Onslaught

Brace yourselves. This is only the beginning. As SEC Media day kicked off yesterday, we saw a terrifying glimpse of the media coverage to come this season. Every coach who got up the podium was asked whether they were the culprit, the charlatan who did not vote Tim Tebow preseason all-conference at the quarterback position. I warned of this at the end of last season when Tebow announced he would be coming back. If the coverage is not coming from people who fawn all over the Florida deity, then it is coming from people who are covering him to talk about how ridiculous it is to fawn all over him. I fall into the latter group. It's a trap! I cannot help mentioning this though.

One by one as coaches faced the media, each one was asked if they dared to not vote Tim Tebow as lord and commander of the universe. [Update: It was Spurrier!] Now I have no problem giving Tebow the honor, I mean those dump-offs to Percy Harvin and shovel passes to tight-end Aaron Hernandez were tough, but the world of SEC football continues to grow, as evidence by their massive new television deal and by the 1,000 credentialed media in attendance. This is why the conference has gained the reputation it has, because the southern population of the United States is absolutely batshit crazy over college football.

But back to Tebow. Even he has to think this is getting out of control. He was asked if he was a virgin, which many people think went too far. The problem facing Tebow and the Gators will not be the talent they have the field or even their schedule, its going to be the insane number of attention paid to their team. If people thought last year was over the top and insufferable (/raises hand) then you have no idea what is coming. That is one reason why it is so hard to repeat in sports because once you win, you get magnified under the microscope. You thought the Farve coverage by ESPN was bad, let me just mention that they have a television deal with the SEC and already slobber over Tebow. Tim Tebow is in our lives 24/7 now if we want to follow college football this season and whether we have spent five minutes with him or not, are we better for it?

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Wednesday, July 22

The Debate For College Athlete Compensation Resumes As Ed O'Bannon Sues NCAA

This could get dicey. It is not enough for the NCAA to have the USC and UConn decisions resting on their plate, they now face a lawsuit from former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon over the compensation denied to athletes in college. The NCAA has a $4 billion industry on their hands and now the players who helped grow that industry are wondering why they never received a cent. This is a larger take on the lawsuit filed a few months ago by Sam Keller, former quarterback for Nebraska and Arizona State, over athlete likeness being used in the popular EA Sports college football game. Former Rutgers quarterback Mike Hart filed a similar lawsuit recently as well.

There is a huge dilemma for the NCAA if the court sides with O'Bannon on this issue. It is a very slippery slope to tread and while in the past I have been of the philosophy that college athletes are entitled to a free (or partially free) education and benefits that other students are not privy too, this particular issue is more complicated. In my mind players should not be able to earn a "salary" while competing in college but there should be some sort of compensation, if not immediately then down the road after they leave school, for the institution's and NCAA's use of their persona to gain profits. While the athletes deserve to comeaway with more than nothing as they have been getting, the piece of the pie and when they get to eat it are more of the question.

This will be yet another blow to the image of the NCAA and I cannot say yet as to whether I can give up entirely on the organization like many have. It certainly has problems but getting rid of it will cause complete anarchy and chaos when it comes to collegiate sports as we know them. In many ways it is like our federal government sans the gigantic deficit. I, for one, am not ready to see that happen but if it eliminates title IX in college sports...well then I am listening at the very least.

Former UCLA star Ed O'Bannon leads suit against NCAA over use of images
[LA Times]

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Something Positive Amidst Sports Tabloid Rubbish

While many people are focusing on the Erin Andrews tape, Ben Roethlisberger's sexual assault civil suit, or what your favorite athlete is tweeting, finally an uplifting story came to us via HBO's Real Sports. If you do not watch this show, you are simply missing out and I am not just talking about this story in particular. Real Sports is what E:60 should have been if it was not held by the constraints of the sports its network covers or assuming that every viewer has the capacity of a mentally challenged 13 year-old. It is for the educated sports consumer and if you can get past the host, it gives you glimpses of the outlandish, historical, and often tragic side of sports in our society.

Last night, the episode had a feature on an organization known as Friends of Jaclyn which pairs pediatric brain tumor patients with a college athletic team. The organization was started by Jaclyn Murphy's father, who saw his own daughter afflicted with a malignant brain tumor when she was ten. Jaclyn had been a participant in sports throughout her youth and in a way to try to bolster her spirits, Jaclyn's lacrosse coach reached out to a former Maryland player who was coaching at Northwestern. The returning support from the team was tremendous and they formed a strong bond with Jaclyn. The Wildcats women's lacrosse team has since gone on a 5-year title streak. The success of Jaclyn's recovery and the inspiration it gave to the Northwestern team led Denis Murphy to create Friends of Jaclyn so that other kids battling brain cancer could experience what his daughter had.

The result is that now all across the country, teams are taking in these kids and giving them a sense of accomplishment and teamwork. Denis has even said the demand now is so great from teams that there is a waiting list. It is not the greatest gift you can give a child, but it is a valuable lesson for them to have if they survive and one they can cherish if they are unable to overcome the disease. While making kids wishes come true is very worthwhile, this is the formation of a bond that lasts weeks, years, and perhaps longer.

This story has been mentioned before, even by but Real Sports put it into an incredibly touching piece that is definitely worth seeing. If you want more information on Friends of Jaclyn, you can visit their official website here:

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Tuesday, July 21

Michigan: Accurate, Petty, or Both?

When offensive linemen Kurt Wermers announced his intent to transfer from Michigan to Ball State, he launched a parting shot at Coach Rich Rodriguez, "Coach Carr's staff was a whole different ballgame, it was like a family. But when Rodriguez came in it was a whole different feeling. It was more of a business. I figured I'd get out while I could." Now, sources are indicating that Wermers was academically ineligible before he left and would not have been able to play.

For ESPN to feel comfortable running a story about a student's eligibility it doesn't seem to be a leap in logic to assume that the source came from inside the university, which begs the question, why do the Wolverines feel the need to comment on an offensive lineman's transfer when he played in no games and wasn't even part of the two-deep depth chart other than to call into question his credibility? After being blasted by another lineman, Justin Boren, who transferred to arch-rival Ohio State, is it possible that Big Blue is a little too sensitive about their image? For an institution to comment, under the cover of sources or outright, on the academic standing of a departing student crosses a line that seems to fall right in-line with the criticisms levied by both of these young men.

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Monday, July 20

The Triple Crown: The Rest of the Story (pt. 1)

If Prince Albert thought the pressure of hosting an All-Star weekend all by himself was difficult, he's in no way going to be prepared for the full court press that will be the coverage of his quest for the Triple Crown. ESPN's Tim Kurkjian weighs in, with customary great tidbits thrown in (for example: "For [Frank] Robinson, it was the only season during his brilliant career in which he led his league in any of the Triple Crown categories").

If this quest can maintain steam into September, media outlets will begin pouring over past triple crown seasons with tons of interesting tidbits about each man that achieved the goal as well as notes from the season. With that in mind, and with a lot of help from Baseball Reference, we present the rest of the story: Triple Crown Edition. Guaranteed to make you cool when discussing baseball with anyone who knows Jeff Cirillo is the all-time batting average leader of the Milwaukee Brewers.

In 1901, when Nap Lajoie won the AL Triple Crown he hit 14 Home Runs, good enough to lead the league by two (only he and Buck Freeman hit for double digits). Last season, 122 guys hit for 15 or more in the majors (56 in the AL). Lajoie's .426 batting average still stands as the league's record and was 86 points higher than 2nd place Mike Donlin's .340 average, and was 98 points higher than last season's leader (Joe Mauer).

In 1909, Lajoie's rival, who would largely overshadow Lajoie in history, Ty Cobb won the Triple Crown with an astounding nine home runs, but all of them were inside the park. Cobb remains the only player to lead the league in home runs without hitting one out of the park. Although, Cobb's speed helped him lead the league in HRs, hits, and stolen bases, he did not lead the league in either doubles or triples.

Rogers Hornsby remains the only two-time winner of the National League Triple Crown, winning in the only two years he led the league in home runs. In both 1922 and 1925, Hornsby ran away with the award. In 1925, he led the league in RBIs by just thirteen, the closest of any category in either of the years.

1933 was the only year to have winners in both league, Jimmie Foxx in the AL and Chuck Klein in the NL. Had they played in the same league, neither would have won. Klein led the Majors in batting average, with Foxx having more homers and RBIs. In fact, Klein would've finished fourth in the home run race, behind Ruth and Gehrig. Foxx won his crown despite recording a league-leading 93 strikeouts. Foxx ran away with the AL crown, but Klein eclipsed Wally Berger by only one homer in the NL.

Lou Gehrig won not only the AL Triple Crown, but the MLB version. It was the only season that he played with Babe Ruth where he bested the Sultan in home runs. Gehrig did, however, top Ruth in both batting average and RBIs during the ten year span. Gehrig was also the first athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties.

The rest of the story on the... rest of the Triple Crown winners tomorrow.

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Craved Storylines Missing In Majors This Year

No golf player ranked higher than 33rd has won a major this year. In a game where beyond the devout followers final days must be headlined by the big name players, particularly the biggest name, this year has been less than cooperative. The Masters in April began the first of casual-follower disappointment when Angel Cabrera outlasted longtime good guy Kenny Perry to take the green jacket. The big focus that day was on the pairing of Tiger and Phil, both of whom made late charges. The announcers were praying for a Tiger-Phil dash to the end, but first Tiger faded and ended up behind a tree on 18, then Phil missed a crucial putt. The sportswriters must have been crushed.

At Beth Page Black in New York, Tiger was out of the picture but Phil stood as the crowd and emotional favorite. After recently receiving news that his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, Mickelson was trying to win one at her behest. The raucous Long Island crowd was behind Phil and he was more than humble and gracious to them. I can see now the keys being punched by the media as they wiped aside tears writing their column about Phil triumph. Unfortunately Phil would again miss critical puts and add another 2nd place finish at the U.S. Open to his record. Another prospect was that David Duval, a man that went from number 1 in the world to afterthought, was also in the running down the stretch. A story of redemption always plays nicely. Instead Lucas Glover, a virtual unknown outside the world of golf took home the trophy in an inconceivably quiet manner. Instead of the heart-wrenching Phil story, they got the "hey get a load of this guy you have never heard of" bit. He reads a lot, isn't that crazy folks!

The latest installment of the great golf story landing short took place yesterday at Turnberry. Tom Watson was attempting the unthinkable, a 6th British Open championship at 59 years-old and on a replaced hip. This improbable notion gave the writers ample fodder to erase the pain they must have felt along with ABC at Tiger having missed the cut. But as we have seen before on 18 at the British, fortunes can change. Watson overshot his approach which left him with an 8 foot put for the win. His failure to close out was Stewart Cink's opportunity and he took advantage.

The debate about Watson's win would have been incredible and would have had golf people talking for weeks. Now instead the story will only be how Watson let it get away that will last only a few days. The debate I mentioned would have centered around how golf should be noted in the sporting world if a man who is 59 and has an artificial hip winning one of the major tournaments disqualifies golf as a sport. To me this is nonsense, because I disqualified golf as a sport years ago. That statement usually draws some ire from people that consider golf a sacred artform. To me saying golf is not a sport is not a negative, it is simply reality. Golf is a game, an activity, that is in the sporting spirit of competition. It is extremely difficult and takes an incredible amount of skill, mental toughness, and the ability to walk a good distance. This should not diminish what golf was,is,and will be in the consciousness of the American sports fan. To say Watson's falling short discredit's the notion that a man of his age can win is quite absurd and protects some convoluted integrity of the game is absurd. He fell one putt short.

The final Major, the PGA Championship next month is the final major of the year and the old hats will be begging for a big name to win and at the very least, Tiger to be there at the end. For my money, I give Bob Estes (ranked 183 currently) the best shot.

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Friday, July 17

It's Friday

In case you didn't know, Audio NSFW.

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Thursday, July 16

Thursday Links

I am not feeling particularly spry this day. I have a July, and am just feeling overall without purpose. This is why when I saw this video of a squirrel with a yogurt cup over its head, I felt this was a perfect representation of where I am in the universe. The lack of any sound other than the scrambling of the rodent or nature makes it all too hypnotizing. I watched it over and over about 15 times and since it is looped 3 times in the actual clip that means I watched this 45 times today.

(via Yesbutnobutyes)

It's been a great ride of epic fail this year for the Nationals. [Gunaxin]

Celebrating those in baseball who are or were on the wrong side of the Mendoza line. [Rumors and Rants]


Sports need a slump-buster. [The Onion]

The best hockey game of the year set to take place in Fenway next season. [Awful Announcing]

Bernie Kosar never learned how to cut bread. [HHR]

Trivia time: Name the MLB All-Star Game MVPs, or just sit there and remain ignorant. [Sporcle]

Listen to the mid-summer edition of our podcast for Bobcats Planet. Catfish wins a bet against me over the height of Eric Snow. [Bobcats Planet]

The ESPYs sound about as entertaining as I would expect. [SportsbyBrooks]

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Economy So Tough Here In Charlotte People Are Stealing This Car

Let's face it, we are all facing tough times. Unemployment continues to rise and now even the famous athletes are not getting a break. Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis had his purple 1975 Chevy Caprice Classic stolen from his home in southeast Charlotte Saturday Morning according to The Charlotte Observer. Davis told the cops the car's value is $136,000. I hope he has the receipts to back up the value of his ride pimping with his insurance company should the car not turn up. Just in case the car thieves didn't know who they were stealing from, the steering wheel had a picture of a football and Davis on it. I can only hope the picture is of him doing the Buddy Jesus pose.

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Tuesday, July 14

Retracing The Last Five Years Of College Football

Good stuff from College Game Balls on the records of the FBS schools since 2004. Amazing that USC and Texas dominate the numbers (just 6 and 8 respectively) but they only have one title each and only 3 appearances between both of them. The ACC's mediocrity is on full display as only Virginia Tech is in the top 10 and after BC at 12 there is not another ACC team until FSU at 29. Duke stands at the bottom of the list. No surprise that the Gators do not schedule out of conference games out of the state of Florida, they have a 65% winning percentage away from home compared to a 91% mark in the swamp.

By the Numbers 2004-2008

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Moneyball: A Retrospective

It has been seven years since the fateful 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics was chronicled by Michael Lewis in the now famous bestseller Moneyball. I was fully aware of the concepts of the book but had never actually read it. About a month ago it was plopped into my lap at the cost of 50 cents from a local book sale. After finishing My Life on a Napkin by Rick Majerus, I decided to finally read the book for myself. With plenty of time since the book's controversial introduction into the realm of baseball, and with a major motion picture production starring Brad Pitt on the horizon (it's back on after being shut down), let's revisit the book and its impact on the sports landscape.

The focal point of the book is about the changing manner in evaluating baseball talent, particularly for small market teams who cannot afford the elaborate payrolls of teams like the Yankees, Mets, Cubs, and Dodgers. The crux of the problem is that the teams with less money have to find a way to compete with the Goliaths that merely pay (and usually overpay) for the best talent. That brought Michael Lewis to the Oakland A's. A franchise with a proud history that includes 9 World Championships including a three-peat in the early 70s, the A's now were limited by ownership that refused to spend money on players.

Thus enter Billy Beane, the Oakland general manager who himself was once a prized pro prospect. Beane was seen by scouts as "can't miss" and a certain star of the future because of his abundance of talent and impressive physical prowess. Beane actually sought a way out of playing and into the front office. It was there that his playing experience, personal temperament, and willingness to change the way players were evaluated vaulted Oakland, and in some ways all of baseball, into a new era of personnel management.

Lewis takes the reader back to the genesis of the rethinking of how baseball stats are compiled and measured. Sabermetrics is introduced as well as it's godfather, Bill James. His story is one of both amazement and now success as chronicled in Moneyball and a recent story on 60 Minutes. Lewis does an impressive job of following the most early notions of sabermetrics and how it caught on with a oddball group of intellectuals that followed James' work and began to construct statistical theories of their own. The book goes into sufficient detail explaining how the founders of the principles of sabermetrics came to develop their ideas and put them into practice with the numbers.

An interesting insight into the draft room of the A's during the 2002 Amateur draft reveals the conflict between the new line of thinking by Beane and his staff, including his assistant GM Paul DePodesta, and baseball scouts who are accustomed to their own methods of evaluation that stem from years of supposed baseball wisdom that comes from hunches, sight observation, and traditional statistics. This description by Lewis is a good indication of the criticism that follows for Beane and other that think as he does. It is a conflict that is just a fierce today between old fashioned baseball insiders and the new breed of analytical thinkers.

If you follow baseball, the players argued about and mentioned in the book as draft picks and minor leaguers are now in baseball. Nick Swisher, now a member of the Yankees, was a coveted draft pick in the 2002 draft. The most prized minor league player by Beane was Kevin Youkilis because he had the key component they believed was necessary to be successful at hitting; getting on base (Youkilis is currently 6th in basbeball in on-base percentage). The evaluation of pitchers is even more interesting. The story of pitcher Chad Bradford, who's unorthodox delivery and low velocity had him ignored by major league teams and kept in the minors until the A's were able to acquire him. That is part of the appeal of the book for people who follow baseball; here are these stories about players no one had ever heard off and written off because of the old baseball way of thinking that were given a chance to succeed because of this new manner of evaluation. The rest of the teams' failure to read the stats turned into the A's gain. From 2000-2006 the A's made the playoffs 5 times, including a trip to the ALCS in 2006. While they never were able to make the World Series, they accomplished this while having one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball.

One of the portions of this paperback edition that I enjoyed was the Afterword written by Lewis about response and critiques of the book. While Lewis found unwavering support from the stat-enveloped portion of the baseball world, he and the A's were treated harshly by the inner baseball circles. What amazed me is that most of the criticism was aimed at Billy Beane, who did not write the book and who Lewis suggested reacted to the final edition of the book with "horror". It appears that those in the Oakland front office had no idea how far Lewis was going to go with the idea. It is laughable when you look at these jabs in the media taken at Beane about Moneyball concern his ego and his wish to put down on paper how he had outsmarted other GMs considering Beane did not write the book. From the excerpts that Lewis used to amplify his point, the critics seemed sure that it was Beane who wrote the book. Beane became the target of a good deal of venom from the old hat of baseball. While the book illuminated this new brand of baseball, it no doubt put Beane in the difficult position of becoming a huge public figure worthing of crafting a movie about and the target of skepticism by ever other front office of MLB that probably always thinks he is out to trick them when he calls.

The book was successful despite these attacks and deservedly so and for readingthe book seven years late after the fact I can honestly say I was better off reading it and getting the full story than by going on what I thought was reality about sabermetrics. The idea has not been limited to Oakland now. Boston promoted Yale graduate and Billy Beane believer Theo Epstein as GM in 2003. They then hired Bill James as a consultant along with other sabermetricians. While the Red Sox had the cash to spend and still relied somewhat on old methods of thinking, they have won 2 World Series in the past 5 years. The Toronto Blue Jays hired J.P. Ricardi, who worked under Beane in Oakland, to be their GM and he quickly went to work overhauling the roster and has them playing competitively.

While baseball is a game where people find it necessary to cling to their traditions, there is a definite place for the new brand of thinking and while it creates conflict and resentment within, its expansion in the sports world is sure to continue.

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Monday, July 13

Home Run Derby Trivia

Do you remember who won the Home Run Derby last year? If you said Josh Hamilton you are incorrect. Test your knowledge of the contest before taking in the long balls tonight at Busch Stadium. There is a general knowledge quiz from Simon on Sports and a quiz of all the winners from Sporcle.

Home Run Derby Trivia [Simon On Sports]
Can you name the Home Run Derby winners at the All-Star Game?

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Pujols Has The Numbers Within Reach At The Break

There are few, if any, hallowed baseball records that still exist in the game. The fans will simply not be fooled again into another summer of cheering for a false hero that turns out to be more shadow and smoke then grit and brawn. Then it must be taken into account attainable records relative to the game today. Cal Ripken's streak is in all likelihood unbreakable. This year when Ryan Howard sat out a start he had the longest current streak and it was only just over 300. The Joe DiMaggio 56 hitting streak is another that seems unlikely to be touched. Now that Joe Mauer is no longer flirting with .400, that record once again fades out of sight.

If there has been one ballplayer who has the talent and the willingness to put himself into the national spotlight it is Albert Pujols. He has had a tremendous first portion of the season and here at the All-Star break leads the NL in both Homers (32), RBI (87), and trails Hanley Ramirez by 12 points in average (.337). He would be the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to accomplish the feat and the first NL player since Joe Medwick in 1937. There are still many miles to go, but for a player who has asked the fans to believe him when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, it would be a great point for baseball to move forward on for him to achieve this success.

Another number I will be watching of Pujols the remainder of the season will be his home run total. He is on pace for about 57 this year. His highest total ever is 49 in 2006. Even though he would need to pick up the pace he could realistically get to 62. If he does, he will have passed by Roger Maris and the only players in front of him would be Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds. Should we not think of Albert as the single season king if he gets there? While the history books will not be altered from the era of juice nor an asterisk placed beside the inflated numbers, a 62 home run total from Pujols will resound with many baseball fans that have taken the plunge with Albert yet again are willing to have faith.

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Friday, July 10

It's Friday

A classic, for WalterPeck

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Links Leading Into The Weekend

The Oakland A's are retiring Rickey Henderson's number next month. Today, the number 24 is truly the greatest. [Oakland A's]

UFC 100 is right on our doorstep; two title bouts, Lesnar tries to silence the doubters, GSP sounds like Van Damme and I love it. [CBSSports]

AI is not a robot, he has feelings people. [Deuce of Davenport]

Dante Stallworth was here. I guess it's get busy living or get busy getting probation. [Sportress of Blogitude]

I give you the Rosy Lipped Batfish, enjoy [Yesbutnobutyes]

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Wednesday, July 8

How High Do We Lift Our Heroes?

There has been a multitude of deaths in the public forum recently. Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Billy Mays all passed in the last couple of weeks and then the two big deaths from the past couple of weeks; Steve McNair and Michael Jackson. While billions around the world mourn MJ's death, McNair's has been brought out of the sports community because of the strange circumstances and scandal that surround his murder. Both are being heralded as great men of their craft and shouts have gone out far and wide to ignore whatever transgressions they have done in order to preserve their memories. The element that has been twisting in my mind is to what extent do we deserve to etch in history the wrong these icons did during their time on Earth.

I'll begin with McNair, who mainly reached the audience of this country in the realm of sports. Steve McNair was, if you read the recent headlines, a warrior. Let me take this opportunity to reiterate the notion that it is not properly just to anoint people like McNair or other athletes as heroes or soldiers. It is a term that mostly is not meant in the context of conflict or life and death situations. The soldiers that are fighting a fierce battle in Iraq and Afghanistan are soldiers, warriors, and heroes. First responders who are willing to sacrifice their lives are heroes. Captain Sullenburger who saved 155 lives by guiding a plane into the Hudson is a hero. Yet whom do we idolize, buy jerseys and other merchandise for, and mention more often than the men and women from the previous sentence. I am not reigning judgment down from an ivory tower on the subject, I am merely stating the reality. The real-life heroes deserve praise and recognition but if you are too ignorant to realize that I am not going to try and convince you. The athletes and celebrities that get the fame and attention are held in our culture as heroes and icons and persons of greater worth than you or I, like it or not.

Forgive the digression there but I deemed it to be necessary to the conversation. As I said McNair was considered one of the toughest men in the NFL of his generation. He often took brutal and serious punishment on the field but handled it with resiliency and toughness. In a macho society such as the NFL or really all sports one of the highest honors you can garner is the ability to play with and through pain. Isiah limping his way through game 6 of the NBA Finals, Willis Reed coming out for the final game with the badly injured ankle, Byron Leftwich getting carried by his linemen to the line of scrimmage, etc. McNair embodied this sentiment and was also an impressive player at his position. I myself had great memories of his exploits on the field, the most famous of which was Super Bowl 34. The play McNair made to escape tacklers and get the Titans in position for a possible game-winning play (starting at 1:34 on the video below) is one that I will always recall. If Kevin Dyson had eluded Mike Jones and made it into the endzone and Tennessee had found a way to win, that elusive play would be one of the most celebrated in NFL history.

But fate is not always on your side (right David Tyree?) and McNair never made it back. According to friends, family, and teammates that is not how Steve would be defined. McNair was always good to the press, involved in charity work in the community, and admired by those who claimed to know him best. When his death came about and details began to come forth, it was sobering news. It now appears McNair was having a relationship with a 20 year-old woman in secret was then killed by her in an apparent murder-suicide. While McNair was in the wrong for the affair, it in now way warranted a death sentence. It is tragic that a 36 year-old father is taken away from his family.

This is the point where my mind has a tough time reconciling the sentiments about McNair. Anytime a person dies, it is often better to focus on the good that they have done in their lives rather than the negative issues. When a public figure dies that takes on even more meaning. Jeff Fisher echoed the wishes of many around Nashville, and in the NFL community when he stated that Steve should be remembered for all the good he did for the game and his community. There seems to be a large portion of the population that wants me to overlook the fact that this man was cheating on his wife and allegedly spending a lot of time with this other woman who it appears became his murderer. To what degree should this man be lauded? I am writing this post to ask, because in all honesty I do not know. I am not here to say that McNair was a horrible human being for the affair, but now that he has passed I do not think that I should wipe my mind clean of any wrongdoing.

This tangentially brings me to the subject of men cheating on their spouses/girlfriends. I am far too small of a sample size to represent all males in our culture but what I can say from my experiences is that men are liars and cheaters. They just are, by nature and perhaps women are too but I do not have women telling me all the time about their exploits. I have heard time and time again a man tell me about when he did this and that with a woman while his girlfriend/fiance/wife was oblivious. I would put the percentage at 7 out of every 10 men have cheated or are cheating on their significant others. Now that begs the question if I have ever crossed that line? The answer is no and that does not mean I am here to sit in judgment of the other men, I simply have been able to turn down temptation at the right time in my life... so far. Oh yes I hath been tempted by the fruit but never did taste. Of course, bringing professional athletes into the equation changes everything.

Chris Rock once said "Men are only as faithful as their options." This is very close to the truth. Your average man can only resist so much before his brain justifies an act of infidelity. Athletes are not your average man though and this because nearly everyday they have women throwing themselves at them. You are expecting a man who is given wealth and fame to somehow tame himself into taking the moral high ground? That is a lot to ask anyone, just ask the governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford. So men cheat, they cheat often and sometimes they get caught. Sometimes they buy their wife a multi-million dollar apology ring, sometimes they rat out their teammates but they cheat. This brings me back to Steve McNair, I do not sit and condemn him for cheating, but I cannot take that factor out of it when remembering him. When the circumstances of his death are added in, that will always be there in my mind. No matter what good he has done in his life, he has committed wrong. I will celebrate his play and toughness on the field, but I will not choose to elevate him as someone that is to be wholly admired.

That brings us to Michael Jackson. On the scale of heroes MJ would be considered on a totally different stratosphere than Steve Mcnair. Yet the principal remains the same in my mind. Jackson is being honored as a hero, visionary, legendary figure. While he is all that and more, can I honestly sit here and ignore the things this man has done?

Jackson was the biggest pop star since Elvis. He was thrust into the spotlight as a young child, he was given the status of a deity as a young man so is it any wonder why he became the way he did? It was we the public that helped create the monster. Was there any chance of Jackson leading a normal life? I do not deny as a kid I used to watch the music videos back when MTV played music and would even imitate the moonwalk, single glove, and thriller dance. You think I can't stop my shoulders from moving when I hear "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough"? Michael's music and influence on lives around the world is undeniable.

At his memorial service yesterday Al Sharpton told everyone to forget the troubles that MJ carried with him. I'm sorry Al but that I cannot do. Jackson is compelling not only because of his greatness but because of the oddities he carried with him. One need only look at the photos of him through the years to see his ghastly metamorphosis. Who knows for sure what happened between him and the young children, but I am certain it was not all kosher. This brings me back to my point: Jackson should be and will be celebrated for generations, but what he became has to be included in remembering.

I am sure America would love to take out certain portions of our history but to do that is to rob the present population of the knowledge and perspective it would give them about their past, present, and future. So these heroes should be celebrated and idolized, but their entire life must be made known including the negatives. Heroes in our life are not a bad thing to have, but when we lift heroes too high we will lose a vision on why we admire them. I will continue to pump the Michael Jackson through my ipod, just as I will continue to think of Steve McNair as a great NFL quarterback, but I will not forget the entirety of who they were as men. I learned this lesson early in life, because my boyhood hero was Darryl Strawberry (Ed. note: He's still alive).

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Tuesday, July 7

It's Our One Year Anniversary!

One year ago today, fueled by a desire to share our insights on sports, Catfish and I embarked on the adventure that is The Amphibious Sports Duo. After introducing myself, I typed our first post about the Federer-Nadal epic Wimbledon match. After reading this post again I realize I really did not spell, grammar, run-on sentence, or diction check the article very well or at all. Yet, it was a beginning and soon Catfish made his appearance by stating some of his mantras and it was off into great unknown. The main reason we began the blog was because we wanted a location to store much of our material and brainstorming. Our ultimate goal is to be able to take the general thoughts, themes and ideas here on the site and bring them to light in the form of a show on radio. While real world obligations continue to require our attention, we have done our best to attempt to entertain, inform, and provoke thought through our content.

The addition of the Shackleford Files, our podcast, gave us the opportunity to be hear and not just seen. Our last official podcast was two and a half months ago but we have been working in the studio, putting material on tape and (hopefully) perfecting how we work together. The ASD also produced a podcast for our local NBA team, the Charlotte Bobcats, for the blog Bobcats Planet. You can listen to all nine Bobcats Planet Radio episodes here. Catfish and I really had some fun putting those introduction pieces in and just like the Shackleford Files, the show took off once we got in studio together. There is no doubt we have improved from where we started in this respect and are seeking an opportunity in the sports community.

So where does the blog go from here? Do we change our format? Do we do exclusively podcasts? Will we pursue advertising? Even we do not know the answer to that question at the moment (but we can go left or right). Both Catfish and I are trying to get a foothold of what our vision for the blog, our recordings, and where we are in life is going to be. But before we go forward, to mark today's significance we are going to look back. Here are the top ten blog posts from our first year. These posts were chosen based on certain criteria: how well we think they represent our philosophy, the entertainment value, the extent with which they were linked to other blogs, and our subjective opinions. I know you're thinking that how could we possibly choose from our over 600 posts, but somehow we were able to. So enjoy the reminiscing after the break.

10. Tennessee Swingin' September 2, 2008

In this masterpiece by Catfish, he was inspired by the University of Tennessee's epic collapse at UCLA on Labor Day. With some photoshopping and a dash of Swingers dialogue Cat attempted to bring Phil Fulmer up to speed on the problems with not running the ball and letting a third string QB march down the field on you. I guess ole Phil never got the message as he stepped down after the year which ushered in the Lane Kiffin era.

9. Top Ten Trick Plays August 25, 2008

One of our first Top Tens was by Catfish as he caught wind of Western Carolina having a contest which invited fans to draw up a play for the football team and if your play is picked you could win prizes depending on the result. I do not know how the contest shook out, but Cat's mention of the contest along with the subsequent list of trick plays got us our first mention in the blogosphere. Sadly the Fiesta Bowl moment at number 1 has been taken off of YouTube so I put in a replacement vid.

8. BCS Afterthoughts January 9, 2009

Florida ensured my streak of teams I despise winning championships would continue by beating Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. The day after the game, many people were talking about Thom Brennaman talking about Tim Tebow. I chimed in my two cents which got a mention in Extra Mustard and a comment from an obvious Florida fan. I never got to retort to the comment that I used a vague stat stating "A large portion of the viewing audience". Sorry I was not scientific enough to produce numbers, but if you read any papers, blogs, listen to radio, or are not a UF fan, you found Thom's commentary ridiculous. I do not need a solid stat to know that buddy.

7. The Refs Hit Miami Again December 3, 2008

This post concerned a basketball game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge between Miami and Ohio State. Of course these two teams have a controversial history so when Miami's All-ACC, scoring machine and second-round draft pick by the San Antonio Spurs (love that team for him) Jack McClinton was tossed out of the game for love-tapping a Buckeye after Jack got poked in the eye, it seemed like deja vu to an incredibly lesser degree. Afterwords we learned that the rule as it stood in the NCAA is that if the refs go to the replay and see contact they have to eject, they just cannot call a technical. It was incredibly lame and cost a lot of pro scouts money who flew down there to see McClinton. I thought this play could possibly cost the Canes a tourney bid come March but it turns out the team outside of McClinton played so horrid that losing this game did not even really matter. Miami went to the NIT and lost in the Quarterfinals while Ohio State made the big dance but fell to Sienna due to a double order of onions. The connection made in the post was not lost to the blogosphere as we got a nod on a few blogs including Deadspin.

6. Catfish Turns Heel November 12, 2008

In his quest to be just and fair about his beloved Tar Heels, Catfish concocted the most likely reasons Carolina would not cut the nets down in Detroit. I have to give him credit because this was early in the season when the Heels seemed unstoppable and on the possible path to a perfect season. He took some heat from his Tar Heel brethren but got the ASD's first link on Deadspin and more importantly to him, a championship.

5. The LeBron Situation June 18, 2009

This was only posted one week ago, but in my mind, it was some of my finest work. I cannot remember exactly how the idea for this Pulp Fiction homage got in my head, but I sat at my desk at work and cranked it out. The idea basically was that the Cavs need to make some offseason noise in regards to their roster and somehow Winston Wolfe came to mind as a perfect problem solver. The Cavs have since landed Shaq but it was probably not in the manner portrayed in the post...probably. If you have never seen the movie or do not count it as one of your favorites, then the angle might be lost on you, but otherwise it's an entertaining look at the situation.

4. The Evolution of the Press April 3, 2009

This is probably one of our biggest thought provoking pieces that we have posted. As much as we love the pop culture references and less than tasteful jokes, at our core these are the type of issues we find relevant when it comes to sports and society. This is the kind of discussion we would push for if given our own forum to the masses. Catfish explained the past, present, and future of how sports information is going to be obtained and interpreted. It was linked around the blogosphere as it should have been.

3. The Genesis: Point and Counterpoint July 7, 2008

This argument between Catfish and I (click the "Point" and "Counterpoint" separately for each side of the debate) is really what got the ball rolling for the blog. We wrote the opinions about the 2008 NBA Finals and their legacy in a forum thread and after talking, decided we should begin a blog to house debates such as this. Catfish was contending that the Celtics win over the Lakers had the most impact on individual legacies since the Bulls' first championship in 1991. He came at this from both sides; the Celtics big three and Doc Rivers, and the wounded legacies of Kobe and Phil. He made a strong case and of course this is neglecting the Lakers' triumph this year which alters some of that history. My contention that it was the two years where Jordan was flailing at curve balls where so many legacies were defined. Between Hakeem and the Rockets going back-to-back and all the other stars that failed to seize a title while Jordan was away (Stockton-Malone, Barkely, Ewing, etc.), those two years left a strong mark on NBA lore. Up to this point we had discussed creating a forum for our debates such as these and attempting to pursue careers in it, but it was this particular correspondence that put it into action. Not exactly letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, but it's who we are.

2. Carolina's Big Cat Missing October 13, 2008

Catfish made this right-on-point poster after the Panther's Julius Peppers had a less than inspiring game (cannot remember which one, there were many). It has long been a hot topic in Panthers' Country what should be done with number 90 and the debate rages on. Even though for a moment against the Saints it appeared the old Pep was back, this poster still holds true in the Queen City today. The poster is truly a great work of art and got the ASD some pub on the local sports radio station.

1. Bob Johnson Embarrasses Bobcats On CNBC October 15, 2008

I am loathe to make our number one post a negative story, but all the factors of this post combined makes it our top one. Catfish found the video footage of Bobcats owner and Charlotte sports hate target Bob Johnson on CNBC's show "Squawk Box" making such epic statements as "put the right players on the field." Nobody really caught the interview which also featured Mark Cuban and in the morning Catfish had the blogosphere and the local sports radio sharing a chortle over the cluelessness of the Bobcats owner. The story got linked on Ball Don't Lie, SLAM Online, as well as others. Considering this and that we here at the ASD covered the Bobcats closely this year and even had our own podcast dedicated to them, this post makes our number one spot.

So there you have it, our top ten from our Paper Anniversary. I'm sure all seven of you that read us faithfully may have other articles that stood out for you. Feel free to share which ones in the comments. We look on the second year as one of great hope and possibly, finally a positive and stable one. To once again quote Kodos, "...we must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!”

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Monday, July 6

Coming Full Circle on ASD, Wimbledon-style

Tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the Amphibious Sports Duo and perhaps it is fitting that the first post on our blog was about the epic 5 set match last year in the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. I labeled it the "Marathon Match" because the contest went 9-7 into the final set. The final yesterday between Roger and Andy Roddick ended 16-14 in the 5th set. While many did not get the "best match ever" feel yesterday, you could not deny that this was the longest and the biggest test of endurance. There was no rain delay, no fading light, just two men slamming serve after serve at one another.

I will simply say the following about the historical implications. Roger Federer is the greatest by the numbers as Pete Sampras, who was on hand with wife Veronica Vaughn, Bridgett Wilson, put it better than anyone could when asked by John McEnroe who held the title of best ever. It was great to see players from each era standing together; Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, Sampras, and Roger. There was mutual respect between them all and there seemed to be an understanding that being the best in your era marked your place in history and that any discussion over who is the best ever is a compelling argument, but not one that has a definite answer.

I have been guilty of criticizing Roddick in the past, and also guilty of deferring to his swimsuit model wife and millions of dollars as comfort for him. But as the match progressed and after Andy fell short, I actually felt bad for him. I am not talking in the grand scheme of things, but simply in the sense of a sports' competitor. Andy deserves all the credit in the world for retooling his game and improving on his weaknesses. He stood toe-to-toe with Roger with his groundstrokes yesterday which is something he had not done in his previous Grand Slam losses to Federer. Even Roger had to be surprised by the level of Roddick's play and it is another tribute to Roger took everything Andy had and still came out on top. Roddick had Roger 15-40 in the 5th set but Roger powered serve after serve to get out of the jam. It reminded me of when Sampras used to do that all the time. After that game Roger never let Roddick get close and by the 30th game, Andy could simply not stay at the level he had been playing. Of course Andy will re-live his bad miss on a backhand volley when he had set-point 6-2 in the second set tiebreaker, but he did bounce back from that to force the 5th set which is another credit to his improvement. I do not see how he recovers from this loss anytime soon, but I hope he attacks the game with the vigor and game planning with which he approached his last two matches.

One thing that has remained constant for Roddick is his entertaining interviews before and after matches. On court, fighting back tears, holding his second place trophy like it was a crumpled paper plate he just used to gobble down BBQ, Andy paid respect to Roger and looked over at the royal box and said, "Sorry, Pete, I tried to hold him off." He turned down the clubhouse interview with McEnroe which I think was wise considering the hug he gave a sullen Federer after last year's final. In the press conference, Andy was slumped over, but answered all the questions truthfully and with his usual wit and snark. "I lost," he said. It was that simple.

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Thursday, July 2

Let's Play the Feud

Every Wednesday Catfish, Xtra Medium, myself and a few friends head to a local pub to play trivia. Operating under the team name of Mookie Blaylock we love going head-to-head with the other teams. It is a general trivia contest and we usually win more than we lose. One of my solo runs is now part of trivia and ASD lore. Today, via Extra Mustard we have this video of a "Natural Enemies" episode of Family Feud between MLB umpires and a collection of 1990 players. Joe Carter and Rick Sutcliffe tie for best haircut here. The vids are broken up into 3 parts and even feature some sweet commercials. I always loved the Ray Combs Family Feud, but somehow he did not hang in there. (I'm going to pay for that joke.)

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Wednesday, July 1

Round Tripping: Parity Alive And Well In Baseball

As the weather continues to get hotter (read unbearable for the southeast) baseball is just about to the halfway point. If you are obsessive like I am and check the standings about everyday you will notice something interesting. While the NFL is the undisputed king of parity and unpredictability week to week, need I remind you the Arizona Cardinals made the Super Bowl last year, Major League Baseball has become much more of a level playing field this year. Some would say it is too early to make such claims but with such a plethora of teams still in the race for division titles and wild-cards, the August/September stretch run could possibly be the most contested since the expansion to 8 playoff teams.

As of right now, I would only say that 7 of the 30 teams are out of the race for a playoff spot: Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, Oakland, Washington, San Diego, and Arizona. It may be a tad generous to suggest that teams like Pittsburgh and Atlanta are playoff contenders, but the numbers so far do not lie.

The San Francisco Giants (yes you read that right) are ahead in the NL wild-card for the moment. The top ten contenders are separated only by 6.5 games. The mighty Yankees of unlimited payroll have to settle for the AL wild-card top spot since they trail the Red Sox in the division. The top 7 in that race are only separated by 5.5 games. The largest division lead in baseball is the NL west where the Dodgers own the best record in baseball (49-29) as they have a 6 game edge on the wild-card leading Giants.

Once again it can easily be pointed out that the season is only half over, but right now you would be hard pressed to find a MLB game on any given night that has zero significance right now. This should make the trade deadline extremely interesting next month. So why do we have all this parity in baseball? Isn't this supposed to be the sport where only the rich thrive and every once in awhile a small market team catches fire for a season? It could simply be chance, just the way the numbers fall and since the baseball season is the classic marathon not a sprint of regular seasons it may all fall apart come September, but maybe baseball is changing and perhaps the way of the Marlins, Rays, and Rangers are going to become more of a solid formula than the way of the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, and Cubs.

Looking at payroll, the teams 1-3 (Yanks, Mets, Cubs) are all not in control of their division at the moment, but they are close. The Yankees had a horrible start, but only trail Boston by 2.5 and have won 7 of their last 10. We just saw back to back outstanding starts by Sabathia and Burnett. Combined with their potent offense this is what we all expected out of the Bronx this year. Hang on with your top starters, bomb away at the plate, and once again lean on Mariano in the 9th. The formula has gotten them this far, but with Burnett's unpredictability, Sabathia and A-Rod's past playoff history, and the the miles on Mariano's arm come October, it is not a fool-proof formula. You would think $201 million and change would give you better security than this Yankee fans, but that is what your hopes hang on if you want the Yankees to make their first World Series in 6 years and win their first in 9.

The other 2 top dogs in payroll have underperformed for various reasons. The Mets have been devastated by injuries. It seems like a cop out to say that but it really is true. With 3 of the top 4 hitters on the DL (Beltran, Delgado, Reyes), one of their starters they were depending on in John Mayne sidelined, and their setup man J.J. Putz gone for a long while, the Mets are in dire straits. It also does not help that they are running a gauntlet of tough teams and that their fielding this year has been akin to a Bad News Bears movie. The Mets are right where they were last year, two games under .500 and clinging for dear life. The Cubs situation is a little different. Yes, Aramis Ramirez has been hurt but I guess Buster Olney said it best yesterday when he called the Cubs "the Dallas Cowboys of baseball." The locker room is in dysfunction and the Southsiders always have the championship drought hanging over their heads. The Cubs are also 2 games under .500 and if they are not careful, they could be out of the picture by the end of July.

Of the remaining 5 teams with a payroll over a hundo million, only Houston is not leading their division. These teams seem to have spent their money wisely, but they are by no means safe. Boston has New York, Tampa, and to a lesser degree Toronto lurking behind them. Detroit has to deal with Minnesota who is always tough and the chaotic Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox. The Phillies have been in a bad slump and while the Mets have mirrored it, the Braves and Marlins have begun to charge. The Dodgers are the 5th team and for the moment they appear rolling but we will see what happens when Manny comes back.

One of the factors that is contributing to this parity is the sustained success of the small market teams. Looking at the playoff teams from last year, you would think that the Brewers and Rays were simply one year wonders. But the teams are right back in the thick of the race this year. The Brewers lost C.C. but they still have the core of their line-up, they added Trevor Hoffman as the closer, and Yovani Guillardo has stepped up to be the ace. The Rays have virtually the same team as last year and despite their slow start, the return of B.J. Upton has lead their 7 game win streak.

Where does the economy factor in? Attendance has been down, but no one is shocked by that, but it certainly limited the free agent wheeling and dealing in the offseason. The big name guys got their money, mostly from the Yankees but a lot of the mid-level teams stayed put and were able to keep their young talent and add some veteran pieces. The Rangers are probably the prime example of this. Think of where they were years ago when they signed A-Rod and spent a ton of money on bats. Now they have a minimal $68 payroll but have the bats of Kinsler, Young with the veteran pitching of Milwood and Padilla. The Rangers trail the Angels by 1.5 games in the division and (hopefully) soon they will have Hamilton back.

We could not forget to mention the Marlins. While the A's are the portrait for Moneyball, even though the movie has been scratched for now, there is perhaps no better example of getting the most out of a paltry payroll than the Marlins. Who knows if this will change when they move into their new stadium and become the "Miami Marlins" but at this point why change what works? The fish sit dead last in payroll at $36.834 yet they one game over .500 and trail the floundering Phillies by 1.5 games. It seems like we could have 2003 all over again. I expect the Marlins will be buyers before the trade deadline which means they could possibly add a veteran arm or bat. The market will be tough though since almost everyone will be looking to improve after the All-Star break. The Marlins did show some signs last year after holding onto Uggla and Hanley Ramirez and it has paid off for them. Hanley Ramirez is, for lack of a better word, "en fuego". He is hitting .341 and driven in a run in 9 straight games. Josh Johnson appears to be doing a Josh Beckett impersonation on the mound and Matt Lindstrom has only blown 2 saves thus far.

What does it all mean? It means that the fans are the big winners just like in the NFL where each week, each game holds significant value. While tickets remain high and attendance dips, in many cities there will be incentive to make the the attempt to come out and catch a game. Baseball can only hope that a month from now the standings will look the same.

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