Wednesday, June 30

Cocks of the Walk

Having grown up in the Carolinas, the Gamecocks were always the team with the passionate fans who loved to hoot and holler but never had anything substantial to back it up with. Sometimes they call themselves Carolina even though everyone else thinks first of the University of North Carolina and other times they refer to themselves as USC even though everyone else thinks first of Southern California. They're athletic history in the 3 major college sports was one that usually was associated with men's title futility. They had a national title in women's track and field in 2002 and while that is a lofty accomplishment, it is not one beholden to the common fan. Their multiple titles in women's equestrian made that their most successful sport in terms of banners. I am not sure where you hang an equestrian banner but I have never heard a South Carolina fan use them in a sports discussion.

The signature of South Carolina in major college sports became high expectations meets inevitable letdown. Whether it was believing the Old Ball Coach would lead the football team to the promise land, the basketball team getting Fang Mitchelled, or the baseball team falling just short of and in Omaha it appeared the Gamecocks could never get over the hump. That all changed last night when Whit Merrifield hit an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th to capture the national title in baseball. The final game ever at historic Rosenblatt Stadium. So hold your heads high and puff out your chests South Carolina fans, today you are known for more than selling hats and shirts that say "Cocks" on them, today you really are a school for champions. Just be prepared for the comedown when football season gets here.

South Carolina edges UCLA to win school's first baseball title [USA Today]

photo via AP

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Sunday, June 20

Samuel Dalembert's Misplaced Belief

The Philadelphia 76ers have shipped Samuel Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni. In three years since being drafted by the Kings Hawes has not scored as effectively as teams would like for a big man and his rebounding has been lackluster. Over at Sac Town Royalty, they've pointed to some possible reasons for hope for Hawes yet. As for Nocioni, he was once described as perfectly mediocre (I couldn't find the link, but I did look). He's average at all facets of the game. Dalembert is statistically one of the best centers in the league for all things defensively, but for the Kings the success of this trade, minus the financial savings in a year, will be based on his willingness to focus on what he does well.

Contrast the difference in perception of what Dalemebert can bring to a team. King's GM Geoff Petrie's weighed in on the trade:

We’re excited about the acquisition of Samuel Dalembert. He will certainly bring a defensive presence and increase our ability to defend around the basket with his rebounding, shot-blocking and athleticism.
Now this perspective from Stephen A. Smith (yes that one):
For the record, Dalembert's problem is not that he couldn't play. At 6-11, he could run like a gazelle, block shots, rebound, and defend. But there's a reason he averaged 8.1 points and 9.6 rebounds in just 25 minutes per game last season: He isn't that good offensively.

Worse, everyone knows that except Dalembert.
There are far too many guys in the NBA who are better at defense, but continue to want their ego stroked on the offensive end. Perhaps the most visible in the league currently, Atlanta's Josh Smith, made some tremendous strides this season, as he recognized lingering at the 3-point line was the not the most effective use of his skill set. Here in Charlotte, Tyrus Thomas could develop into a rich man's Ben Wallace, but unless he's allowed to take 15-foot baseline jumpers he seems jilted and susceptible to fits of pouting. Even someone like Dwight Howard, would not have endured the chronic foul trouble in the playoffs were it not for his (and his coach's) desire to become a prominent feature in the offense. Some guys like Joakim Noah, Birdman, and Kendrick Perkins are able to accept their roles and make themselves even more effective by not taking bad shots. It will be interesting which Dalembert shows up for the Kings, a talented young team poised to take the next step towards relevance. Will it be the defensive presence Geoff Petrie hopes shows up or the offensive superstar in his own mind that Stephen A. Smith wrote about?

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NBA Finals Game 7: Where Refs Controlling Legacies Happens

With 1:23 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Joey Crawford called Big Baby Glen Davis for a push in the back away from the ball. The foul appeared largely innocuous at the time, no foul shots were taken, Davis, a rserve was not in foul trouble and you won't see it on any highlight reels. With one simple call, however, Joey indicated a shift in officiating that would largely rob the players to write the latest chapter in NBA history. The NBA Finals had a game 7 for only the second time in the last 25 years, but other than Ron Ron's post game press conference, this one will be remembered for the player being robbed of a chance to write history.

After 82 regular season games and 23 playoff games, the Celtics were leading by four little points heading into their final game of the season and potentially their final game as a team for this particular collection of players. 105 games and three quarters, as well as knocking out the likes of Wade, LeBron, and Dwight Howard should have entitled this team an opportunity to write their own final chapter, but that opportunity was swiped from them. Don't be confused, this is not anti-Lakers, while they won and probably wouldn't change anything, they were likewise not afforded the opportunity to cement their legacies, either. Except for Pau Gasol, who once again proved he'd rather get a call than make a play, unless it involves discarding a point guard on a rebound.

Through the better part of three quarters the refs were stellar, allowing the players to determine who was going to be most deserving. Here you can see how many free throws were being attempted per minute through each quarter. The first three quarters are very similar, but the 4th takes a dramatic turn. In a quarter where the Lakers scored 30 points, they made just six field goals.In a game that was 57-53 entering the fourth, with scoring at a premium, granting one team nearly two free throws per minute was bound to have a dramatic effect on the game. Watching the game it did not feel that it was being played dramatically different, but suddenly it was being called dramatically different.21 free throws attempted in the fourth and while the Lakers did not shoot particularly well from the stripe, it was the only reason that a game that had been nip and tuck remained close down the stretch. At halftime ABC highlighted Boston's ability in transition as a key to the second half. This ability was virtually nullified in the fourth quarter as the FTs allowed the Lakers to be set on defense nearly every occasion. Only six times were the Celtics not pulling the ball out of the hoop or rebounding a free throw. On four of those, they scored or were fouled. A 66% success rate that had there been more opportunities, could have made a huge difference.

While Celtics Lakers remains the most storied rivalries in the NBA and maybe all sports, the final chapter of this series was written by three officials who either got nervous or couldn't help wanting to be a part of the story. It should be noted that while one team was attempting more free throws in one quarter than had been attempted by both teams through three quarters the ESPN announcing crew completely failed to acknowledge this revelation. Perhaps if we don't talk about it, we can pretend like the players did decide the game. Unfortunately, Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the greatest gift an NBA season can give was altered dramatically by three referees, a story line that has become all too common in recent years.

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Friday, June 18

It's Friday

Catfish is on vacation this weekend and I will be all next week. Plan accordingly. I took down my rage post on the USA screwjob in the World Cup because FIFA had the video taken down, but my rage is no less seething. In case you need reminding, Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos was the singing telegram girl from Clue.

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Tuesday, June 15

Do You Expect Me To Talk?

"You have interfered in Australia's plans for world domination for the last time 007."

No Mr. Bond I expect you to read this article about some of the World Cup managers resembling a menacing villian from the Bond films. My top ten Bond films post is in the works, I promise but it is still in the working stages. In the meantime most of the World Cup matches are ending in non-pulse pounding draws or blowouts. Take this time to imagine how Maradona would stroke a fluffy kitty and tell 007 how this device he constructed will slowly leak hot magma into a cauldron which would slowly tip into a trough that would eventually kill James 4 hours later.

6 World Cup Coaches Who Look Like James Bond Villains [Asylum]

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Monday, June 14

R.I.P. Sausage King

Jimmy Dean, the Sausage King, has passed away. With no disrespect intended to Mr. Dean or his family, I wonder if anyone asked, "Should we continue making sausage today?" Every time someone associated with a sports team passes the 'Should they play?' question surfaces. I want to go on record that when my time has come, I want all teams to play. I want no debate. I would like it noted, however, that this is not what I will have wanted. I will have wanted to live or for the entire planet to stop and mourn, but if that's not going to happen who am I to hold up a sporting event? I'd like to believe that some people will be glum when that day comes, but why should they be glum and bored? 'Can we at least play cards? I'm not sure that's what Catfish would've wanted us to do.'

Since September 11th, this question has been cheap article fodder for sports writers and a talking point for reporters on the scene. A story line that seems ludicrous for every other walk of life. Enjoy life, celebrate it. Enjoy some Jimmy Dean sausage and his biggest musical hit today, I like to think it's what Jimmy would've wanted.

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Sunday, June 13

A New Doctrine Has Been Issued

Recently our friends at YesButNoButYes decided to close up shop. Hated to see it go as we enjoyed it and hopefully you stopped by to check them out as we linked stories and had them on our "Outside Sports" link list. However, with the funding of an eccentric genius a new site has been born. This site is a wonderful collaboration of writers from all walks of life and I was humbled to be asked to contribute. You can read The Doctrine here at I highly suggest adding it to your list of reading on the interwebs for both the diversity of topic and perspective.

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Saturday, June 12

The AP: Hypocritical Arbiters or Just USC Fans?

With the release of the NCAA's investigation the USC Trojans are poised to lose their 2004 BCS National Title, but not their AP title. AP Sports editor Terry Taylor, stated that the title will stand, "The poll is intended to measure on-field performance. If teams are allowed to play, they're allowed to be ranked and USC certainly played in 2004." This decision comes just a month after the AP decided awards weren't about on-field performance. Who reigns as AP award winners remains largely insignificant to most, who aren't USC fans, but has the AP declared itself the arbiter of rules without telling anyone? There in lies the true significance of their latest decision.

"The poll is intended to measure on-field performance. If teams are allowed to play, they're allowed to be ranked and USC certainly played in 2004."

Let's talk on-field performance: 87 Tackles, 5 Sacks, 4 Interceptions, and 2 Forced Fumbles.

That was Brian Cushing's on-filed production during his rookie year with the Houston Texans. Three months after receiving his Rookie of the Year award from the AP it was announced that he would be suspended the first four games of next season. The AP decided a re-vote was in order. Ms. Taylor justified it by saying, "I think there's a heightened awareness out there. I think there's less tolerance, you know, for PEDs, for steroids, for anything that could, in some way, be considered a performance enhancer."

USC cheated, perhaps not chemically, but they cheated. Is the AP not as sanctimonious or do they not believe that run of the mill paying student-athletes is as damning as PEDs? This decision places a new value system on "degrees" of cheating with Ms. Taylor as the un-appointed judge and jury. Degrees of cheating is not a new concept, but until now no media institution had deemed itself worthy to rate these infractions. The AP chose to acknowledge the NFL's rules but ignore the NCAA's all on the basis of what? Timeliness? Part of the impetus for a re-vote was Cushing's admission that he had tested positive. So because USC repeatedly failed to cooperate, they're rewarded instead of punished by the AP. I wish bill collectors had the same policy.

During a time when the amount of media outlets with access continues to dwindle, the AP stood out as one without a stake in broadcast rights. Now, however, the AP has apparently decided it's no longer good enough to report facts and break stories, they are now in a position to decide which rules should be followed. As a consumer we can only hope that they don't abandon reporting on stories such as student athletes getting paid, because they've clearly decided it's not nearly as troubling as PED use. Congratulations Ms. Taylor, your name is once again being discussed. It certainly seems like that may be even more important to her than being consistent or the AP's credibility.

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Friday, June 11

It's Friday

Greatest taco sketch ever? Greatest taco sketch ever.

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USC Gets The Ban Hammer

While the NCAA infractions committee poured over information, records, and hearsay in the case of the University of Southern California nobody thought USC would get more than a slap on the wrist. After the penalties and report came out today, the hammer drop fell harder than anyone anticipated. The full report is 67 pages, and you can see the full version here. After the break I take out a few choice parts that caught my eye and give my assessment.

The NCAA's enforcement and infractions processes are, at best, only one avenue to police and sanction amateurism violations caused by agent involvement. These processes are often slow. The limited scope of authority also means that these processes are, at times, incomplete.

Right off the bat the report addresses the problems of agents having dealings with high profile athletes. The NCAA freely admits it is a problem that the associatoin currently is not equipped to corral. Anyone who knows college sports knows this. The problem is that no one has a solution, at least one that can be implemented.

The report first addresses the Reggie Bush situation. The list of impermissible benefits is lengthy and detailed. They involve agents that Bush was in contact with during his time at USC. They vary from the well-known rent-free house for his parents to, cash for a down payment on a new car, free limo rides to San Diego, and an airline trip to the Orange Bowl for his brother. The final one tome is the most eyebrow raising:
Prior to the institution's September 3, 2005, football contest at the University of Hawaii, Manoa (Hawaii) student-athlete 1's step-father went to agency partner A's mother‟s home in El Cajon where she provided $5,000 in cash to him.

It almost seems like something out of Blue Chips. At this point, it is obvious this was a train running straight off the tracks. Anyone could see a single item as a bad mark on the career of a college athlete, but taken all together it is gross miss conduct of which the parties involved were aware of the underhanded nature of their actions.

The report states the following about their conversation with Bush on the matter:
Student-athlete 1 consented to an interview with the enforcement staff in late April 2009. Although he denied entering into any type of agreement with agency partners A and B, or anyone else associated with their attempts to form a sport agency, he conceded that he knew agency partners A and B, and he communicated regularly with agency partner A via telephone and text messaging. Student-athlete 1 reported that he socialized with agency partner A at area clubs and at his (student-athlete 1's) parents' home. He admitted that some of the conversations between him and agency partner A were about the formation of a sports agency. He also admitted that, with agency partner A, he attended a party that was given annually in San Diego for a former NFL player. [See: Findings 1-a-(5) and 1-a-(6).] He said it was "possible" that he helped agency partner A get into the USC locker room after a football game and that it was also "possible" that agency partner B was there too.

So Bush admitted to having a relationship with them and "possibly" helped them get in contact with other USC players. He has denied all those benefits listed and entering any type of agreement with the agents.

Pete Carroll, who was at the hearing in February is now residing in Seattle. The punishment he faces for this happening under his watch is the altering of his coaching record and the black mark of public perception. Even with that said many feel Petey peace-outed before he felt the true wrath of these sanctions. The one part of the report I would like to highlight involving Carroll was his use of an old NFL acquaintance to break down film for the team. This "outside consultant" performed duties that only countable football coaches are allowed to perform. Therefore, USC exceeded their limit on number of coaches. This story was out in the press before this report, but here is the excerpt I found interesting:
The institution, the enforcement staff and the former head football coach are in agreement with the facts of this finding and that violations of NCAA legislation occurred. The institution believes that the violation is secondary because, in its estimation, it was isolated, inadvertent and neither provided, nor was intended to provide, a competitive advantage. The enforcement staff took no position as to whether the violation was secondary or major. The committee finds the violation occurred and it was major in nature.

Here was USC saying it was only a secondary violation. The problem many have had with the USC football program is their attitude that they can skirt the rules so easily. Not intended to provide a competitive advantage? They brought in a veteran coach with college and NFL experience to break down film. How is that not helping you in the field of competition? But here is the most compelling part, the report says:
The committee notes that the former head football coach did not check with the institution's compliance office before hiring the consultant. Rather, another institution's compliance office notified the compliance office at USC of the consultant's service with the USC football staff. As a result, this violation is a component of Finding B-7, lack of institutional control.

Boom. You notice that last sentence? That dread "lack of institutional control"? As an athletic department you never want to hear those words, ever. See how it states that Carroll did not check with the compliance department before bringing the consultant (who was Pete Rodriguez) in. It is not unheard of for coaches at major programs to operate with their own sense of complete autonomy but in the article I linked in the previous paragraph about the incident, this is the quote Carroll provided when asked by the press about the situation:

“To get to the point where we could have a guy be a consultant and come and see us, we did all of the homework, went through compliance, did all of the steps that you have to to make sure it’s OK,” Carroll said. “The way we understood and interpreted it, we tried to do everything exactly the right way. And that’s it.”

Right here Carroll contradicted what the committee found in the report, which I assume they found by interviewing the compliance officer at USC. Not the most egregious error ever made by a major college coach, but it goes to show laid back Pete was more than capable of twisting the truth and distorting facts while running his program.

The next section goes into detail about the OJ Mayo mess. Once again they lay out a list of impermissible benefits (my favorite was a $1400 TV). Here is the long and short of it:
From August 2006 through May 2008, representative B who was also affiliated with a professional sports agency, and representative B's associate ("representative C"), provided inducements and extra benefits in the form of cash, lodging, merchandise, automobile transportation, meals, airline transportation and services to student-athlete 2 when the young man was both a prospect and an enrolled student-athlete, to his brother ("brother"), to his girlfriend ("girlfriend") and to the girlfriend's mother ("girlfriend's mother").

The lesser known third party in these findings was a girl on the women's tennis team. Her violations seem to stem from her fondness of the telephone.
From November 2006 to March 2009, a former women's tennis student-athlete ("former women's tennis student-athlete") used an athletics department long-distance access code to make 123 unauthorized personal telephone calls to family members in another country. The total value of the calls was $7,535.

I mean damn, you have to be calling your foreign home quite a bit to rack up that much of a phone bill. Are international calls usually that pricey? I guess it depends how long she was talking but that is $61.26 a call.

The next section hits on that dreaded "lack of institutional control" point again. The report goes into detail about each section but this is the summary of it:
From December 2004 through March 2009, the institution exhibited a lack of control over its department of athletics by its failure to have in place procedures to effectively monitor the violations of NCAA amateurism, recruiting and extra benefit legislation in the sports of football, men's basketball and women's tennis.

There are 25 items on the penalties list. Some of them were imposed by USC in light of the situation with men's basketball. This of course was a faint attempt at showing the NCAA they were cleaning up things in house, but with the list of transgressions the committee had to impose tougher sanctions and they did.

Some of the highlights from the penalties:
1. Public reprimand and censure.

2. Four years of probation from June 10, 2010, through June 9, 2014.

4. The institution's football team shall end its 2010 and 2011 seasons with the playing of its last regularly scheduled, in-season contest and shall not be eligible to participate in any postseason competition, including a bowl game, following the season. Moreover, during the two years of this postseason ban, the football team may not take advantage of the exceptions to the limit in the number of football contests that are provided in Bylaw, with the exception of a spring game as set forth in Bylaw

5. Pursuant to NCAA Bylaws and, the institution will vacate all wins in which student-athlete 1 competed while ineligible, beginning in December 2004.

6. Pursuant to NCAA Bylaws and, the institution will vacate all wins in which student-athlete 2 competed during the 2007-08 regular seasons. (Institution imposed)

7. Pursuant to NCAA Bylaws and, the institution will vacate all wins in which the women's tennis student-athlete competed while ineligible between November 2006 and May 2009. (Institution imposed)

9. Limit of 15 initial grants-in-aid and 75 total grants in football for each of the 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years.

10. Limit of 12 grants-in-aid in men's basketball for 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years. (Institution imposed)

A few others of note: The school will have to "disassociate" with the 3 former student-athletes mentioned. That means Bush, Mayo, and the tennis player have to get the OJ treatment. Also, with the vacating of wins for the sports (including their 2005 Orange Bowl BCS national championship win), they are also taking away all of their records on the field/court.

The report goes into full detail about the size of the eraser the USC sports information department will need.
Regarding penalties C-5, C-6 and C-7, the vacations shall be effected pursuant to NCAA Bylaws and and shall include participation in any postseason competition, including football bowl games, conference tournaments and NCAA championships. The individual records of student-athlete 1, student-athlete 2 and the former women's tennis student-athlete shall also be vacated for all contests in which they competed while ineligible. Further, the records of the head coaches of the affected sports shall be reconfigured to reflect the vacated results. Finally, the institution's records regarding football, men's basketball and women's tennis shall be reconfigured to reflect the vacated institutional, coaches' and student-athletes' records in all publications in which records for football, men's basketball and women's tennis are recorded, including, but not limited to, institutional media guides, recruiting materials, electronic and digital media, and institutional and NCAA archives. Any reference to the vacated results, including championships, shall be removed from athletics department stationery, banners displayed in public areas, and any other forum in which they appear.

That last part reminds me of Judge Dredd, when Sly is found guilty of killing the reporter in front of the tribunal.

"Let the betrayal of the law be taken from our courts. Let his armor be taken from him. And all his garb of justice. Let him be stricken from our hearts and our memories, forever!"

That may be a bit of a dramatic example and considering the horrible movie that Judge Dredd was, not an appropriate analogy.

So where does USC go from here? When Miami got a one year postseason ban and reduction of scholarships in 1995, it took them about 3 years before Butch Davis righted the ship [Interesting note: Paul Dee, who was the AD at Miami when they got their sanctions, was the chair of this NCAA infractions committee]. However, college football is a different animal these days. With super-conference realignment looming as a possibility and 24-hour media, USC could lose a lot of their recently signed athletes as well as established players. Some say the program will take 5-10 years to recover, others think Kiffin will have things back to order after the 2 year postseason ban is lifted. No one knows for sure so if they tell you they do call them an idiot and walk away.

One last note on this. Mike Garrett, the athletic director who had these violations occur on his watch, was at a booster function in San Francisco last night. He wasn't exactly apologetic for what had happened. His priceless quote #1 of the night was this:

"As I read the decision by the NCAA," he told the group, "… I read between the lines and there was nothing but a lot of envy. They wish they all were Trojans."

He went on: "Today I got a purpose for really wanting to dominate for another 10 years."

And then the final big kicker. After acknowledging his position as AD might be in trouble, he fired a salvo across Pete Carroll's bow: "Probably. I'm sure Pete Carroll knew a few things that were going on too. That's why, after all those years of teams pursuing him, miraculously he's in Seattle."

I understand the Trojan nation thought they were impenetrable. They thought that no force could bring them down as long as they stood behind their high walls. They became wealthy and powerful in the land of college athletics but through their own arrogance and belief that they could not be touched by the rules, they were burned from within. The good thing about USC as opposed to the actual Trojans is that they can rebuild their city and reclaim their prominence, but for now their empire has crumbled about them.

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Wednesday, June 9

Strasburg Already in a Special Class

Last night's Nationals game had all the electricity of a fight night, all the hype of any game not called the Super Bowl and it was all riding on the right arm of Stephen Strasburg. The kid delivered. His performance outshone the hype and had people buzzing both well before and after he walked off the mound. His fourteen strikeouts on 94 pitches was the fewest ever needed in baseball history. Without doubt, his performance elevated him into a special class of athlete reserved for the truly gifted.

After a mere one start I can safely say that young Mr. Strasburg has joined the ranks of my 'Please God Let Us See This Young Man's Full Potential' All-Stars. He's a rare talent to be savored and enjoyed by fans of all teams, not just his own. He's not a grinder that only the truest of fans can appreciate, he's not the guy that you hate, but would love to have on your team, he's a transcendent talent sent to this Earth to do one thing: Pitch. I asked Cleet who would be on his PGLUSTYMFP All-Star Team (working title) and he selected Jason Heyward, Derrick Rose, Ndamukong Suh, and the newest member Strasburg. On my team: Kevin Durant, Suh, Eric Berry, and the new captain Strasburg. I was tempted to add DeMarcus Cousins for selfish reasons, but even I can admit he's not a transcendent athlete.

Over the years several guys have been on the team among them, Vince Carter, Calvin Johnson, and of course LeBron. Ironically, all three have fallen short in some way. Vince's on the downside of his career and we were robbed by his apathetic approach and being buried on some bad teams, LeBron's priorities seem more clouded than ever and I'm not convinced we'll ever see him better than he was against the Pistons in the 2007 playoffs. Calvin's still only 24 but hasn't had the Randy Moss Thanksgiving 'Hello World' game.

Speaking of Hello World, a lot of people have gotten worked up over Tiger's lack of success since he returned. At one point, he was the only golfer to ever join the PGLUSTYMFP All-Stars, but now he's 34 going on 35 and while he may yet pass Jack's totals for Masters, his ability to be an awe-inspiring player again remains in doubt. We saw his best and while Elin surely does, I don't feel cheated. I hate the situation for him, but we've not been robbed of seeing his best. That's all I hope for with all these guys, because far too often it just doesn't happen. Enjoy the ride, one way or another we'll all be telling our grandkids about Strasburg's first start.

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ESPN's World Cup Murals

ESPN commissioned Wieden + Kennedy (they previously did the Nike Write the Future and the Arnold Palmer Sportscenter ads) to do a series of World Cup posters, one for each country participating. At first, I simply enjoyed the prints for their aesthetics, but apparently the Serbian poster has caused quite an uproar. Other than the US poster - naturally - I'd go with Ivory Coast's as my favorite (over England, by a tusk). View the complete collection here on Facebook. AdFreak has more on the project and the inspiration.

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Mets May Own An Unwanted Trade Record

If you read this blog often or even from time to time you may know that I am a Mets fan. Yes, thank you for your sympathies. While flipping back and forth between Steven Strasburg's debut and the Mets-Padres game last night, I heard Mets' color man Ron Darling mention some of the bad trades the Metropolitans have made in their history. The one he mentioned got me thinking of another and suddenly it hit me that New York may own a bad piece of MLB transactional history.

The trade Darling was referring to was the 1971 trade that sent Nolan Ryan to the California Angels for Jim Fregosi. The Mets also threw in Frank Estrada, Don Rose, Leroy Stanton. Fregosi never panned out for the Mets, while Ryan went on to win 138 games for the Angels and averaged 272 innings per season. Ryan would eventually end up with 324 wins throwing 7 no-hitters and holding the seemingly untouchable strikeout record with 5,714. The Mets cannot be blamed for trading Nolan in his prime, but Ryan had started to come around under the tutelage of Tom Seaver. Whatever the situation was, Ryan was not happy in New York and asked the team to trade him. Now some people say to get rid of player right away when they say something like this, but this was not one of those cases, even though that insight comes from hindsight.

The Mets failure here was the inability to recognize what Ryan was and what he could become. Maybe that was a little on the coaches, or maybe the front office personnel with their hands in player development. Whichever it was, Ryan was dealt and it would not be until years later the error in Mets' foresight was visible.

The other trade was more of black mark on the Mets' history. It was so bad the trade itself has a moniker. "The Midnight Massacre" occurred on June 15, 1977. Seaver was sent to the Reds for the memorable ballplayers known as Pat Zachry, Steve Henderson, Doug Flynn, and Dan Norman. Home run hitter and fan favorite Dave Kingman was also traded the same night. The trade was the culmination of friction between Seaver and chairman M. Donald Grant. After beloved owner Joan Payson passed away her daughter gave more control to Grant and by the late 70s, Grant had basically total authority over the team's roster management. Seaver had been the the ace and the icon of the franchise. He won the Cy Young award 3 times, and lead the team during their 1969 World Series and 1973 NL pennant. From 1968 until the trade he had never struck out less than 200 batters in a season.
Seaver wanted top pitcher money, and why should he have gotten different? Grant refused to budge and the some writers in the press turned on Seaver. Talks between the two parties completely broke down. Seaver went 14-3 for Cincinnati the rest of the season, including a shutout against the Mets. The next season Seaver threw his first career no-hitter. The Mets have still yet to have a no-hitter in their history. He did return to the Mets for the 1983 season but was picked up in the compensation draft by the White Sox denying his 300th win coming as a Met.

These two trades were under different circumstances and were to varying degrees of misjudgment by the Mets front office. The fact that the Mets did not get much if any value for the trades does not help their legacy. Yet the fact remains that the Mets traded away two 300 game winners while both had good,quality baseball years left in their arms. Ryan had yet to reach his potential but he had the greatness in him. Seaver was on the latter side of his prime but still a terrific pitcher not to mention the face of the franchise. There are only 24 pitchers in the 300 club, and the Mets might be the only team to trade 2 of them while not in the twilight of their career. Not a desirable footnote in your team's history.

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Tuesday, June 8

Rudy Gay to the Timberwolves Makes No Sense... or Perfect Sense

The Timberwolves have been reportedly interested in Memphis forward Rudy Gay for some time, but when the item resurfaced on TBL it was the first time the possibility had popped in my brain since the draft order was announced. Last year, T-Wolves GM David Kahn was the laughing stock at the draft. Signing Rudy Gay to a big contract would likely earn Kahn more negative attention.

Why would this move be questionable? The Wolves currently have Corey Brewer and Jonny Flynn as their starting backcourt, neither who's a formidable 3-point shooter. Adding Rudy Gay would add another guy more adept at driving than shooting. Defenses sagging off would also create a logjam in the lane would also limit the effectiveness of both Kevin Love and Al Jefferson.

In addition, the Wolves have the 4th, 16th and 23rd picks in the upcoming draft. At the 4th spot, according to many mock drafts they will be in position to draft Wesley Johnson out of Syracuse. Johnson showed a reliable 3-point shot last season, albeit in college and while he may not possess quite the same explosiveness as Gay, he's certainly capable of filling the void for $7+ million less per year.

Unless the Wolves already have a deal in place to move multiple pieces, Rudy Gay is not the answer on the outside. They would need to move Al Jefferson and Corey Brewer for a sharpshooter to justify acquiring Gay (and even then not at the price they'll likely pay). Even if they move Jefferson what are they getting back? Unless the answer is a SG with a steady stroke, they may not be better off. More draft picks perhaps? Then paying for a guy like Gay makes even less sense because the roster won't mature until the end of his deal. Plus trading Jefferson will leave a hole in the middle and even if the decide to select DeMarcus Cousins his effectiveness would limited for the reasons stated above. A better fit for the team would be to draft Johnson and then try to sign John Salmons. Not a huge Salmons guy, but I'll take Salmons and Johnson over Gay for the same price.

After last year's Ricky Rubio debacle, nothing David Kahn does can be classified as a surprise, but if he screws up this offseason, the writer turned GM may find himself looking for a new profession. There will always be barber college...

(H/T Porkchop)

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Two Knucklehead Draft Picks: Two Different Perceptions

Last night the Washington Nationals made Bryce Harper the number one overall pick, but he's not without his critics. He's got his fair share of red flags most associated with his attitude. His defenders argued that his talent was too much to pass up and that he'll mature with time. So why is Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins not being extended the courtesy as we head toward the NBA draft? Cousins was not ejected from a game the way Harper was in the Junior College World Series, but his "knucklehead" status has him dropping down the boards despite handling a hostile situation in Mississippi State quite well. Harper's supposed to be an all-world talent, Cousins likely the 2nd pick talent. I understand that, but Cousins is only two years older than Harper and while Harper has been in position to showcase his talents, Cousins played in a guard dominated situation at Kentucky. Looking forward to the NBA draft, I'd be hard pressed to pass on a big man that has the skill set of Cousins, pretty much anything you could want minus blocks, should be picked below Evan Turner. It should also be noted that Turner was more of a hot head as freshman, ironically enough and his skill set is more easily attained by teams than Cousins. Unless a GM is convinced that Turner will be special, he better be certain that Cousins will not mature with age the way people say Harper will, otherwise that GM will regret it.

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Monday, June 7

NBA Officiating: Changes Should Be Made

With another Finals game dotted with questionable foul calls, it's time for Commissioner Stern to consider an unprecedented shift in policy. Basketball places demands on its officials largely unmatched by other sports, but the biggest issue lies with the inconsistency that plagues the NBA more than other sports. While many have dismissed former referee Tim Donaghy's claims about games being fixed, his regular appearances on Dan Patrick's national radio show illustrates that to some the questions and possibilities still percolate. David Stern has attempted to close ranks, declaring Donaghy a "rogue official" but with lingering doubts, confused fans, and most importantly perplexed players and coaches he and the League would be best served to consider a new course of action.

Much of the interactions between the sports leagues and their officials is shrouded in secrecy. For most leagues, it has not caused any issues, but while criticism in other leagues is almost exclusively limited to focusing on the officials themselves (think Phil Luckett and Joe West), but when NBA officials mess up people view it as a sign of a larger issue or conspiracy.

A possible solution to this recurring issue would be transparency. Allow the fans, media, and teams behind the curtain. Daily correspondence between the league and officials could be made available online. Tweaks to the points of emphasis even within a series should be known by all interested parties. The League would not have to make known individual critiques towards specific officials, but at the end of the year a performance review would be. Now if Yao Ming gets called for moving screens midway through a series it's not a conspiracy it's a known criticism that the NBA has made the officials aware of. As long as the officiating mirrored the communications, it would provide all parties explanations that currently are lacking.

NBA officiating remains plagued by several problems including the re-enforcing of flopping (both physical and verbal) as a way to induce a call, the increased physicality of the game and an aging core of officials. The best solution for the sport would be to address these issues, but allowing outsiders a peek behind the curtain, in such a way that would not embarrass the refs, would certainly be a step in the right direction.

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Kid Fails At Catching, Gets Rewarded

Is it inappropriate to make fun of a crying kid? Definitely but that will not stop my rant. Last night, during the Cardinals-Brewers game, Albert Pujols blasted a home run that struck a boy in the chest. Since MLB are video Nazis, I can only share the link HERE. The boy seemed to be knocked back, then he began sobbing a little bit. All was made right though as he ended up with a bat and posed for pictures from his father's cell phone with his prize.

I'm all for the kids, even though I generally do not like being around them. However, this display is a typical PR moment for the Cards and a weakinging of manhood at the same time. A few things to notice in this video; first, the kid has brought a glove, a big one mind you, to the ballpark for the very slight chance the ball finds its way to him during the courses of the game. Secondly, the kid is sitting in the front row of the outfield and Albert Pujols is at bat, your glove should be at the ready. Now I don't blame the kid for crying, a hard hit baseball stings, especially to a soft mushy nonadalescent frame, but this should be his introduction to the tough facts of life. [Daydreams about Lisa Weltchel for 5 mins] So he should take the bad, his bad fail of not catching this ball. This kid needs to learn in life sometimes you drop the ball and when you do someone else picks it up and you have to live with it. I can't tell from the video if the kid got to keep the ball, he has it for awhile in the video even though the fan next to his dad picked it up after Faily McGee missed it. The video then shows him giving it back to his father. His dad should have just looked at him and said "You're killing me Smalls!"

But no, instead we have to not only tend to his wounds, but placate him with an item of sports memorabilia. Not many can say they have an autographed Albert Pujols bat, even Jor Morgan if you listen to the audio from the video. Congratulations son, and when you grow up and get that profound sense of entitlement when you try out for a team, go for a job, seek employment, cheat on your taxes, beat your wife, and commit any one of countless felonies, remember this moment when your inability to make a play brought on sweet reward.

Some of the credit/blame goes to Pujols, who went to watch his replay in the video room. [Uh, anyone else think it is weird that dude gets to go watch a replay of his at-bat in the middle of the game?] Yet most of it falls with the kid and his parents making a big production. I really hope the guy who rightfully picked up the home run shot came away with something. One last note, check out Mom in the video once she realizes her kid has suffered no permanent damage, thanks for being a good sport and going to the game lady, hope you enjoyed staring at your cell phone for 3 hours.

Pujols gives his bat to kid after hitting him with home run ball [FoxSports Midwest]

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Is Coach Calipari the Anti-Wooden?

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. -John Wooden
This is not intended as a full comparison, just in terms of public perception. Coach Wooden unfortunately passed away over the weekend, and is remembered, correctly, as being not only a tremendous coach, but also a tremendous man. He was a man who valued winning and teaching, but a man who also turned a blind eye at various points during his life. Contrast the way Coach Wooden is perceived and the way Coach Cal is perceived and it night and day.

After both coaches left schools, their teams were placed on probation. Last week, Calipari and his wife donated $1 million to a charitable organization in Memphis and within minutes the internet was alive with jokes and snide remarks about why he would be donating. While Coach Calipari may operate in greys area from time to time, he's never given the benefit of the doubt. Not by the media or the public. When Terrence Jones de-committed from Washington people (myself included) assumed Calipari had done something underhanded. He remained quiet and only after Jones committed did he tell his side of the story. His version stands in stark contrast to the assumptions made by many, but also made perfect sense.
Then he (Jones) called about an hour later and said ‘Cal, I made a mistake. I don’t know what I was doing.’ That is when the thing went like ‘You what?’ So we talked to him and said that we are going to do whatever you want. I am holding your scholarship. At one point I said, ‘Look, if you want to go to Washington then go to Washington, and if you want to come with us, come with us. Just make a decision so that we can all move on.’ (WKYT)
Perhaps a victim of the time, people are constantly looking to attach scandal to Calipari, but many of those same people sought to deflect any criticism of Coach Wooden. He was voted the best coach of the century, while Cal is regarded by some as ruining college basketball. No one would argue that college basketball would be better off without Coach Wooden as a part of its history, but a great many already have argued that way against Coach Cal. I've long been a critic of Calipari, but I'm also quite certain that if Coach Wooden was having his success in today's day and age, procuring top recruits from across the country (without some of them ever stepping foot on campus), that he too, would have jealous detractors crying foul.

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Conference Expansion: Taking the Next Step

Again this week talk of conference expansion has sprung up through out the internet. Boise State to the Mountain West. Who wins the Texas raffle? Who do they have to take in addition? Will Notre Dame finally bite the bullet and join the 21st century? All of these recurring questions are yet to be answered, but several things have become clear, most notably: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. With the ever expanding world of college athletics on the doorstep of yet another evolution (or de-evolution) the powers have proven they do not care about the fans or more importantly the student-athletes. Increased travel? Who cares? A diluted product? If it brings in more money, so be it. The idea that conferences can put out an increasingly unbalanced product that erodes rivalries and deprives fans of marquee matchups will continue to produce larger revenue is flawed. Eventually, their will have to be a truly seismic shift in college sports to continue increasing revenues? Why not skip this era of bloated conferences and jump to the biggest money grab in American Sports history. Beyond the break lies just that possibility.

In the SEC they currently use a 5-2-1 format for their football scheduling. This means a team plays their five division opponents plus one permanent non-division opponent and then two rotating non-division opponents. With this system the biggest of the big dogs Florida and Alabama play four out of every ten years. As sports fans we've been fortunate enough to get them in the SEC championship the last two seasons, because if not the last two national champions would not have met. If the SEC expands, these matchups would likely grow even more rare. The same case be can be made for many marquee matchups that don't serve as primary rivals (OSU-Michigan would be preserved... right? right?!?!) if conferences continue to expand. The increased load of a conference schedule would also likely have a negative impact on already meager non-conference scheduling. That's why I choose now to present my idea to not only make the schools more money, but to also provide the fans with a better experience.

My idea? The League of Extraordinary Teams!

What is it? A collection of the 40 best college athletics programs broken into five divisions. Each division would operate as a regional mini-conference. It would represent a return to the Pac-8, Big-8 eras where rivalries were at their apex. Schools would be selected not solely based on the success of their football teams (although in some cases they might), but on the overall success of their athletics programs. The LXT would be creating a year round cable network that would showcase many of these programs. So who makes up the LXT?

South: Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Kansas, Oklahoma St, and pick one: Missouri, Arkansas, Texas AM, Baylor, and Tex. Tech
North: Ohio St, Michigan, Wisconsin, ND (they have to accept or relinquish all relevance), Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa and Indiana
East: UNC, Duke, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky and pick two: Miami, FSU, Clemson, GT, and SCar
West: UCLA, USC, Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, and pick three: Washington, Arizona St, Oregon St and Cal
North East: UConn, Cuse, Penn St, UVa, VT, Pitt, and pick two: Maryland, WVU, Rutgers, and BC

Don't get caught up on who made the list and who didn't. It's a rough hack and with college sports being as political as they are concessions would have to be made (Texas wants Baylor in? They're in, sorry somebody else). What these teams represent, however, are the very best in both college football, college basketball as well as many other non-revenue sports such as baseball, volleyball, wrestling, etc. Having dominance through out the sports year would allow the LXT to start a cable network similar to the Big Ten, but with a nationwide following and a ton more star power.

Fantasizing about a nationwide sports conference is fun, but why could it happen? Money. Currently the NFL sets the bar for TV contracts, not only because football is king, but also because the teams negotiate as one. People often regard the NFL as the gold standard in American Sports at this time, but the NFL's reach pales in comparison to that of college football, so if
the biggest and best decided to join forces, not only could they provide one season's worth of games, but four. The LXT network could be like the Big 10 network times 1000 in terms of content. Regional contracts could still be signed and networks would be lining up (similar to the NFL) to get a piece of the premiere college sports conference.

With all of the teams playing under one conference banner, the League would have nationwide reach and all money would be kept "in house" and distributed amongst the schools. Currently NFL schedule release day is the only one in American Sports that has become a big deal. With the LXT, the schedule makers could ensure that marquee games are staggered and release day would become a bigger phenomenon than NFL release day. How many prime time games does my school get? Who are the inter-division games? Every fan base would be buzzing. Just as the NFL works to maximize it's feature games the LXT could do the same. Four games every Thursday at two start times. Saturday's would feature a staggering number of games, but the marquee games would also be staggered so as to avoid conflicting. Week after week would feature various must see LXT games in primetime.

At the end of the regular season, the five division champions as well as the top seven non-division winners would compete to crown one LXT champion. The format would be similar to the BCS playoff proposed here previously. Of course, the LXT no longer needs the BCS skimming money off the top. Even more money kept in house.

Looking ahead to college basketball, the Christmas tournaments could be entirely LXT events ripe with desirable inter-division matchups. The return of mandatory home and homes within each division would restore some of the lost luster of rivalries and individual division tournaments would feed into a small LXT Elite Eight style tournament.

A move such as this would be unprecedented, but so would the financial gain for the schools. It would change the landscape forever, but the product would be better. As it stands, the landscape is changing, but not maximizing the money earned or the product on the field/court. Both the fans and the schools would win. every would win, except for of course the other division one schools, but when there's money to be made that doesn't matter. The schools are already proving that on their own.

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Saturday, June 5

Time Is A Motion Of Inevitability

Discussions of Sam Gilbert can wait for another day. The sports world has lost one of its icons of leadership. RIP Coach Wooden.

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Friday, June 4

It's A Friday Update

What a week it has been. Catfish and I are still standing. We are still chasing that gold in the grave that is a lucrative sports career, both in our own unique way. So what better metaphor than my favorite Western standoff of all time. I would like to claim to represent Clint in this scene, but Cat is taller than me. No I am Tuco, the crafty and squat outlaw gunning for gold. Our third counterpart is the sports hemisphere, represented by the deceptive Angel Eyes. The three of us are at an epic standstill and only through progress will we shoot ourselves to glory and the precious coin.

What I am failing to say is that while Catfish and I are working hard on our real life projects, we still are committed to making this blog a reservoir for our thoughts and musings. We do not have the means to be an up to the second sports newsblogs, but hey, twitter is just a tweet away. We are here to offer our dynamic perspective on what we praise and abhor in the sporting world which we care about so deeply.

So while our compadre TBL deservedly cashed in on his hard work this week, we will continue to churn out our work little by little. Cat is mastering the airwaves, I am learning the intricacies of collegiate athletics, and this blog remains a refuge for our philosophizing. So by all means keep checking back, and subscribe so you can get our content when it comes around. Thanks for reading our good, bad, and the ugly. There are two kinds of people in the world my friend, those that have guns and those who dig. Right now we are still digging.

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Thursday, June 3

A Perfect Game Ruined: Take Pandora's Box and Shove It

Pandora's box must be trending well on Google or at least amongst baseball fans and sports talk radio hosts. After last night's near perfect game, people are coming out of the woodwork to demand the call be overturned by the Commish or insisting the call stand. Despite the fact that football, basketball and hockey all have successfully implemented better instant replay systems there's been no large scale public outcry to overturn the immaculate reception, to remove Brett Hull's skate in the crease goal, or to nullify Trent Tucker's buzzer beater. So why in the name of the ghost of Joe Nuxhall are people acting like reversing the blown call at first base to properly award a perfect game would cause anarchy? Perhaps because they don't know as much baseball history as they think they do.

On May 26 1959, Harvey Haddix took the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Milwaukee Braves. After throwing what is regarded by many as the greatest game, an error in the 13th inning broke up Haddix's bid for perfect game. 12 straight perfect innings, 36 up 36 down, all for naught. Perhaps the most famous non-perfect game in baseball history until now, Haddix's name barely rings a bell for most baseball fans.

Quite a few will learn about him for the first time today, but not for the reasons discussed here as this isn't about Haddix's performance. It's about Major League Officials. The game ended after Milwaukee's Joe Adcock hit a ball over the fence with two men on. Hank Aaron was on first and mistakenly thought the ball had bounced over the fence for a ground rule double. Aaron touched second and headed to the dugout assuming that the game had ended. Once he realized his error and tried to return to rounding the bases Adcock had already touched third. The umpires conferred and determined Adcock was out, but Aaron's run would count.

Today people are asking for Jim Joyce's blown call at first to be overturned and they are meeting resistance from people arguing that Pandora's box will be opened, the human element is a part of the game and shouldn't be tampered with, the fear of a bad precedent and countless references to the 1985 World Series. If Bud Selig were to overrule the call he would not be changing the outcome of the game, but what he would be overruling the umpire on the field and taking a hit away from a batter.

So what does Harvey Haddix's game have to do with this? Well, the day after the game MLB officials decided that Adcock's hit was a double because of the baserunning error and took Hank Aaron's run off the board. The new final: 1-0. Here it is on Baseball Reference. That's Pandora's box. Oh, but it was 50 years ago and somehow baseball has managed to not turn into anarchy - outside of the NL East. So 51 years ago MLB officials decided to overrule the umpires on the field, take away a run, but not impact the ultimate outcome of the game. It also cost Joe Adcock a home run and a RBI. Yet, if Jason Donald's hit is taken away to correctly restore a perfect game that will be the bad precedent and the opening of Pandora's box? No, the bad precedent was set in 1991 when the Committee for Statistical Accuracy in Baseball led by then-Commish Fay Vincent decided not to award Haddix a perfect game.

The irony of the slippery slope, Pandora's Box crowd is that they claim to come at the discussion from the angle of being true baseball fans and historians. Not knowing about Henry Haddix is one thing, but regardless of what Bud Selig does here, it will be no pine tar incident, an incident that every baseball fan is familiar with and actually involved the Commissioner overruling the umpires and disregarding a rule. That's a serious precedent. Bud wouldn't be setting any precedent, he'd be setting the record books straight. 50 years ago Harvey Haddix...
(very good read)

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Cal Coxswain Provides A Voice On And Off The Water

An inspirational rowing story is all I need to grab my attention. Jill Costello, the coxswain for the Cal women's team is battling stave IV lung cancer. This article from the San Francisco Chronicle has the details about her upbeat attitude, desire to compete with her team despite the illness, and her proactive approach to battling the disease. There is an interesting point in the article by John Crumpacker (that name can't be real can it?) about how lung cancer research does not get a lot of funding because it has the negative association with smokers. Costello and 25 percent of women are nonsmokers who have the disease.

Most people think coxswain's just sit at the front of the boat and yell "stroke". I cannot tell you how much this quaint explanation bothers rowers, let alone coxswains. As Costello's coach put it "A cox is part psychologist, part coach, part cheerleader, part drill sergeant. A good cox can have a positive effect. A cox is more of a cerebral athlete."

Best wishes to Costello and although this article came before Cal competed in the NCAA Rowing Championships and they came up short, the story is a great read. We always hear about a person's courageous battle with cancer, but Costello is an example of a person determined to make the battle count.

Full speed ahead for Cal cox [SFGate]

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The One-hit Shutout That Will Live In Infamy

If umpire Jim Joyce had not blown the call at first base Armando Galarraga would have recorded the third perfect game in a month. That means 1/7th of perfect games in MLB history would have been performed in that time. Unfortunately Joyce, as he put hit, "kicked the shit out of it". Joyce has apologized and said all the right things, as has Galarraga and Jim Leyland, but the fact remains history was ruined. This does not affect the standings or the pennant race because the Tigers still won but what about the next time it does? Selig will make some bumbling statement I'm sure and baseball will continue with only replaying home run calls and doing so in an extremely inefficient manner (sending all the umps under the stadium instead of having a replay official upstairs). This has nothing to do with tradition or the human element, it has to do with making a correct call and the means to do everything in your power to make it.

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