28 February 2007

Chicken Toss Contraband

Ah, the great rivalries in college sports: Duke-UNC, Michigan-Ohio St., Texas-Oklahoma. There's one rivalry that's been overlooked, but with this story you'll want to pay more attention.

For years it's been a tradition for Kansas St. fans to smuggle live chickens into the arena when they play Kansas, in order to throw them onto the court during player introductions. This is done in order to mock the rivals, and their Jayhawk mascot. When the two foes met last week three live chickens made their way onto the court during player intros. And since we all know chickens can't fly, we know they didn't get there by themselves. Check out the video above to see for yourself. Pay attention, it happens right away...

Said KU Coach Bill Self:

“My first year here one of them hit me,” Self said. “I’m glad we were on the other side of the court this year. It didn’t upset me. That’s tradition here that’s gone on many years, I guess. I only saw one (chicken). Security got them off the court.”

Of the atmosphere, Self said: “It was classy, the way a rivalry should be. I thought the crowd was great and our guys responded well again.”

Classy, huh? Well not everyone agrees with Self. PETA, first and foremost. They wrote a letter to Kansas State complaining. And begins the absurd.

According to PETA's letter, chickens are "very intelligent and inquisitive animals" that appeared to have been subjected to "deafening noise, bright lights, terror, abusive handling and likely death for the sake of amusement." I haven't had too much exposure to chickens over the course of my life, but somehow the words intelligent and inquisitive have never come to mind. Usually it's something more like "leaner than red meat."

Kansas St. apparently found PETA's letter more convincing than I did - for they have now condemned the chicken toss, vowing to eject anyone who does so at a future game.

It's obvious that PETA means business, and they're NOT fooling around.

Said PETA director Debbie Leahy: "Any student who throws live birds on a basketball court should be thrown out of school."

First off, these PETA folks have got to have better things on their agenda than this. I agree that this isn't the most humane activity for a chicken (or even close). But I don't believe it warrants being expelled. Imagine having to respond to that question on a job interview. All in all, it's pretty funny. Only a college student would be ingenious enough, and have enough time on their hands to do something like this. And it it's definitely brought more excitement to the KU-KSU rivalry than Bob Huggins or Bill Walker ever could.

Return of the Sweetness

Hello, readers. Hello, fellow Lion-in-Oilers. The Sweetness has been on a well-deserved break, but has decided to come back on this beautiful Atlanta day with some thoughts on college basketball.

But before we delve into the evaporating regular season, I want to share something that has been on my mind. The Sweetness has always appreciated a good-looking jersey, be it the UCLA classic, the home Georgetown uni, or the gold get-up that Vanderbilt breaks out from time to time. While I’ve never been one to don such apparel, sticking to polos and jeans and generally conceding that I’m devoid of anything resembling street cred, this new Dwyane Wade Marquette jersey from Nike is something to behold. It’s complicated, however, because I hate Marquette. D-Wade is pretty much the only thing that has come out of this Midwestern Catholic abyss that I respect. Tom Crean? Can’t stand him. Travis Diener? One of my most-hated players of all time. But damn it if this jersey isn’t nice, a throwback to the days of Marquette's 1977 championship squad. I ask you, dear readers: is this wrong? And to the clowns: Hak, would you sport a Giants throwback? What about you, Goran? Any respect for USC’s football outfits? I am but an aesthetically confused soul, and I seek your help.

Now, onto other matters, namely, the state of the two programs in my beloved home commonwealth. First, my boys.

It is hard to believe that three weeks ago, the Louisville message boards were lamenting another lost season. Since a thorough beatdown at home from Georgetown, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals have reeled off five in a row and established themselves as one of the hottest teams in the nation and a veritable lock for the Big Dance. How did this happen? Huge wins at Pittsburgh and Marquette, two Top 15 teams are the primary reasons. David Padgett (the man with two bionic knees) and Juan Palacios (the slowest healer in NCAA history) have managed to stay relatively fit, and a veteran frontcourt works wonders for a team. Then there are the freshmen. Everyone knows about Derrick Caracter by now, the head case with loads of talent who has finally gotten his act together. Yes, he is a beast in the post, with an array of moves and fakes that most in the college game don’t have. But it is the other three freshmen who have propelled this team into the Top 20. Edgar Sosa. Jerry Smith. Earl Clark. All talented freshmen with unique abilities, all hyped out of high school. It’s not that they were disappointing early; they simply didn’t develop at a supersonic pace a la Kevin Durant, or the kids at Ohio State and North Carolina. For better or worse, those guys are the measuring stick, and an impatient fan base does not want four-start recruits to be good eventually. They want them to be good now. Luckily, that’s finally happening. This team closes out the season at home against Seton Hall. Assuming they win that game, they’ll have a bye in the Big East Tournament, and probably set themselves up to be anything from a 4 to a 6 seed in the tournament. Maybe that will shut up those lunatics over at Planet Red for awhile. The future is bright in the Derby City.

Not so much over in Lexington, however. If Louisville fans are apologizing with their collective tale between their legs for the way they criticized Pitino, Kentucky fans are threatening to storm Tubby Smith’s office the way the French stormed the Bastille. There is no denying the Cats are down, and struggling, having lost four of five games. The lone victory was an uninspired effort against last-place LSU, and late-game meltdowns against Vanderbilt and Tennessee have Big Blue Nation demanding a change at the head of the bench. But as a native, I refuse to believe that the criticism isn’t at least somewhat racially motivated. Of course the dynamic has always been there, but it is magnified in times of trouble, when fans poisoned with short memories are prone to irrationality. I don’t need the lectures about tradition, about how this is all unacceptable for the all-time winningest program. What I need is for a literate, articulate UK fan (which eliminates about half of their fans immediately, mind you) to look me in the cyber eye and tell me that Tom Izzo or Roy Williams would receive the same treatment in this situation. I simply don’t believe it. Before last season, the Cats were an overtime away from the Final Four (in 2005) and a top seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2003 and 2004. How quickly they forget such facts with two relatively mediocre seasons, seasons which owe their struggles in large part to the players, not the coach. The current junior class, Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford and Randolph Morris, were all highly touted, McDonald’s All-Americans who have simply not played well in important spots. The talent is there, the coaching is there, but for whatever reason, these guys buckle in the limelight. Tubby can’t make Crawford or Bradley make threes. He can’t make Morris decide that it’s time to come play. Motivation only takes a kid so far. Eventually, they have to take it upon themselves. Of course no one wants to hear this, and Tubby will probably be canned. At least then I can cheer for this outstanding in-game coach and first-class citizen without having to cheer for the enemy. Silly UK. May you never reach the Final Four or national prominence ever again.

Now that the Homer-ness is out of my system, here are the six teams that I believe have a shot to win the national title, from most to least likely….


Wow, do I feel like an idiot for believing that the Oregon Ducks were anywhere near as good as this team. They have rolled through the last month of their Pac-10 slate. Darren Collison is a quicker, more unselfish version of Jordan Farmar, and I think that might be what takes this team to their first championship since 1995. Afflalo can score, Shipp and Mata and Mbah a’ Moute can rebound and play defense, and Jim Halpert can give them a lift when necessary. Tough game at Wazzu this weekend, but I expect the Bruins to win the Pac-10 Tournament and enter the dance as the no. 1 overall seed.


Relax, everybody. This team has lost three of four, but they’re still the most talented bunch around. When they play their best, no one, I repeat, no one, can beat them. They are still 12-3 in a power conference, correct? Tennessee and Vanderbilt are both tournament teams who are tough to beat on the road, right? Get off their backs, everyone! Lee Humphrey and Taurean Green aren’t shooting well, and Joakim Noah is finally realizing that he doesn’t have an offensive game outside of three feet. Not to worry. The backcourt will break out of their slump, and if these guys can come out awake in the first 10 minutes of a game, the frontcourt can thrive in a breakneck pace where the backcourt doesn’t have to shoot its way out of a large deficit. The Gators will handle Kentucky on Saturday, then pick up steam in the SEC Tournament. I still expect to see them in Atlanta at the Final Four.


Alando Tucker didn’t exactly come up huge in that game at Ohio State last weekend, and the Badgers suffered a major blow when Brian Butch landed awkwardly on the floor with his elbow in Cleveland. Butch, the team’s leading rebounder, is out for the year, but once again, everyone is panicking because these guys aren’t completely perfect. Michigan State needed a big win against the Badgers and pulled it out; same with Ohio State. These are not bad losses, and if Wisconsin stops settling for a perimeter game and gets Tucker more involved mid-range, they will be a tough out. The defense is still there, and it is a lot easier to slow a team down in the Tournament than speed them up. Bo Ryan’s guys will do that to everyone in March, and it will drive opponents crazy.

North Carolina

Assuming that everyone is back but Wright and Terry, I think next year is the year for the Baby Heels, but they are nothing to laugh at this year. Their pace is the opposite of a team like Wisconsin’s but if their shots are falling and they play 100 miles an hour, no one can beat them. Ty Lawson is a better scorer than predecessor Raymond Felton and every bit as quick. Ridiculous depth will also keep this team from wearing down, though their youth (three freshmen, a sophomore in the starting lineup) may ultimately get the best of them, as it has in February (three ACC losses this month). This team’s success depends on who they play, but in a year of mediocrity, they have a decent chance to win it all.


Again, an example of a team who lost a game and has subsequently sent bracketologists scurrying to drive down their seed. I think they’re a two, and a damn tough two at that. John Thompson’s Princeton offense has a history of being rather effective in a single-elimination format, and it is all the more difficult to defend with athletes like Jeff Green and DaJuan Summers executing the screens and backdoor cuts. They did win 11 in a row, and they’re easily the best team in the Big East; what could break them is their backcourt, however. They can’t score lots of points quickly the way that a lot of teams can, and an early deficit could seal their fate. In a tough physical battle with the score in the 50’s, however, I’ll take the Hoyas. If they get hot, they can get to Atlanta. Believe the Hoya Paranoia, or whatever they call it.


ESPN’s Jay Bilas, everyone’s favorite Giant Dork (literally), says that Kansas could be this year’s Florida. I don’t buy it, but as I look at mock brackets with Washington State and Southern Illinois as three seeds, it makes me think that these guys really could get hot and make a run. It’s not that teams like Wazzu and Southern Illinois aren’t deserving of these high seeds in the age of RPI and computer profiles; but can you really expect either of those teams (or Memphis, or Nevada, or Butler) to cut down the nets? I don’t think so. Julian Wright and Brandon Rush and co. have the talent at all positions to win six in a row, but a lot of things have to go their way. Don’t forget that these guys got hot at the same time last year, and promptly bowed out in the first round to Bradley. A date with Texas and their performance in the Big 12 Tourney should give a better indication of their capability, but they have to be the monsters that beat Florida, not the underachievers who lost to Oral Roberts.

Where is Ohio State, you ask? Not here. A second-round upset waiting to happen. More on that next time.

27 February 2007

Brittle, brittle bones

Shaun Livingston had "probably the most severe injury you can have to the knee." Poor guy. Will his incredible potential ever be fulfilled? He has yet to play a full season in three years and may miss all of next season. Here's to a good recovery for him and to his eventual ascension to the upper echelon of NBA point guards. If Amare Stoudemire can come back from microfracture surgery as spectacularly as he has, surely Livingston can come back from this. Then again, he does play for the Clippers, for a team that seemed to have given up long ago.

Peep the ESPN video to see the injury, but as the anchor says, look away if you're squeamish. She also says that it's just a dislocated kneecap, but since then it's been discovered that Livingston tore three out of the four ligaments in his knee. Yeah, that's bad. But look at this fro!

26 February 2007

A Rejoinder to David Zirin

I first came across Jason Whitlock's prose after a friend mentioned an article penned by Whitlock that took ESPN's Scoop Jackson to task for suggesting to young African-American school kids that they had a better chance of making it as professional basketball players than they did as sports journalists. The friend also happened to send along Whitlock's infamous interview with The Big Lead, where he referred to Jackson as a "clown" and took issue with his "fake ghetto posturing." Perhaps most striking was his employment of the term "bojangling" in describing Jackson's unorthodox writing style. While many were shocked at Whitlock's lack of nuance or subtlty in criticizing his former colleague, there were those among us who agreed in concept with Whitlock's remarks. Though we may not have entirely agreed with his bombastic tone or use of merciless adjectives, the time had come for someone to call out Jackson.

Jackson's frequent incoherent ramblings on race, misuse of the English language and inability to shake his XXL persona had worn thin. Each week, one was presented with a hackneyed reason as to why white society didn't "understand" or "accept" today's modern African-American athlete. Each week, one was presented with material so poorly written and contrived that Florida QB Chris Leak could have breezed through it. But this rebuttal isn't about Jason Whitlock v. Scoop Jackson. This entry is about David Zirin's lack of insight in criticizing and lambasting Whitlock for having a series of "Bill Cosby moments" (Whitlock's words). While Mr. Zirin contends that Whitlock's recent spate of columns have only exacerbated white America's ingrained racist attitudes towards African-Americans, in fact, Whitlock's words serve as a reminder that there are African-Americans who believe that a drastic change is needed within the black community, that African-Americans can no longer blame others entirely for the problems with which they face.

Mr. Zirin employs the use of a number statistics to defend his stance that we reside in a country of "institutionalized racism and poverty." Let me be absolutely clear: Racism is still a malicious, malignant and persistent problem in this country. Growing up in the melting-pot of Brooklyn, New York did not hide me from its pernicious effects; in fact, it may have even heightened it. But the African-American community is facing a fantastic crucible as we speak. It needs answers, not excuses. It needs role-models, not artifical religious crusaders. But citing the normal, run-of-the-mill statistics is not going to stir the pot that is so needed now.

Additionally, Mr. Zirin takes Whitlock to task for avoiding the scour of "institutionalized racism and poverty" that bedevils the African-American community and placing blame on "kids with baggy pants" in his latest Las-Vegas-based reporting stint. Sadly, Mr. Zirin fails to comprehend Whitlock's targets of derision. Whitlock is not targeting the rebelliously benevolent teenage kid in jeans four sizes too big, but those who repeatedly resort to violence and ignite mayhem. Those like Titan's corner Pac-Man Jones, who has faced charges of assault, vandalism, disorderly conduct, public intoxication and misdemeanor assault all in the past two years. And lest we forget, was also involved in an NBA All-Star weekend melee that has left three people critically wounded due to gunshot wounds. I wonder if Mr. Zirin will use the time-honored "institutionalized racism and poverty" to defend Jones' actions. It would be ironic, considering the riot allegedly began due to Jones'decision to spray the strip-club floor with $81,000 from a plastic bag. $81,000 that could have been used to open a local Boys & Girls Club, YMCA or after-school center in Jones' urban hometown of Atlanta.

It is clear that Mr. Zirin is most upset by Whitlock's controversial descriptions and characterizations of today's black youth. Yet, I ask Mr. Zirin to take heed of Bill Cosby's "Pound Cake Speech," delivered on the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Rather than pontificate on this surely monumental event in American history, Cosby delivered a harsh, stunning and utterly provocative condemnation of certain segments and aspects of the African-American community with which he took issue with. Immensely troubled by the rise in single-parent African-American families, senseless violence plaguing the country's urban steets, and a lack of African-American educational achievement, Cosby morphed from the lovable father-figure we grew to love on the Cosby show into a man with little regard for political correctness. Throughout this deeply moving and earnest speech, I hope Mr. Zirin pays attention to the intermittent sounds of applause emanating from the largely African-American audience. While many could have taken umbrage with Cosby's decision to use the event as a platform for such pointed, harsh criticism, it is hard to make out any sounds of disapproval or disavowal. Perhaps it was because Cosby's words spoke directly to the heart of what many in the audience might have felt, though they may have been too scared to express themselves for fear of being a pariah.

Jason Whitlock has decided to use the venue provided him in a way that will continue to produce disharmony and discord amongst the sports journalist community, African-American community and American-athlete community. His thoughts on the current condition of the African-American community in this country will undoubtedly lead other writers like Mr. Zirin to take up arms (pens, I surely hope). And with their words, they will become accountable and responsible for something bigger than themselves. Something constructive, honorable and worth emulating. Something Whitlock's writing has helped to inspire, energize and ignite.

Thank you, Jason.

25 February 2007

Kammron's Worst Nightmare

The Ohio State-Wisconsin game just ended, and it was a rare sighting of a hyped 1 v. 2 match-up that actually lived up to its billing. Neither team looked great, with both teams taking their shots back and forth at each other. Kammron Taylor is one player who's going to have a hard time sleeping tonight, though. With less than a minute left, and the Badgers up one, the Senior missed the front end of the one-and-one. Then, down by one with 3.9 seconds left, he got his shot blocked by the defender.

Kammron finished the game 4-12 from the field for 10 points. This was after his 0-6 performance at Michigan St. on Tuesday.

The Badgers have slipped a little going into the tournament, and next Saturday's game at home against Michigan St. is now a must win. They are no longer a sure bet for a #1 seed, and really need to turn it up for the next two weeks.

In a side note, the game also showcased one of the most gruesome sports injuries I've seen in a while. Wisco's Brian Butch landed on his arm, came up with something that wasn't quite what it was before.

Who knows how severe the injury will end up being, but the Badgers really need him to make a deep tournament run. Let's all hope he comes back soon.

NOW, to the Oscars!

24 February 2007

Show Me The...10-Day Contract?

The NBA trade deadline came and passed with a whimper this week, with Bill Simmons perfectly describing everyone as belonging to the "No Balls League." In a slow week, the biggest news was that after three years of retirement, Scottie Pippen wants to make a comeback. Why would a player want to do something like this? Usually it's that they can't handle retirement, miss the limelight, and feel they have something left to prove. Usually. In the case of Pippen, it seems like he may have a different sort of motivation.

It seems as if Scottie Pippen is in need of some money. Big time. The Chicago Sun-Times gets to the nitty-gritty for us:

It was reported Thursday that the Missouri Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling from last year in St. Louis County in which a judge agreed that Pippen owed U.S. Bank about $5.021 million in principal, interest and attorney fees from a dispute over a private jet and company Pippen once owned.


Pippen said the charter-plane issue is one of many poor business decisions that were made primarily by a former agent, whom he blames for causing him to lose about $27 million in bad investments and questionable accounting. Pippen sued his former law firm in 2005, claiming he had been swindled, but he lost the case.

The Big Lead commented on this yesterday, and it really made me wonder. How could this guy POSSIBLY be in need of money? Basketball-Reference.com lists Pippen's career salary at roughly $109 million. How could anyone have gone through that? It really makes you question Scottie's judgment, doesn't it?

As delusional as Pippen was to have lost all that money, he's just as delusional to think that he's got anything left in the tank to actually help a team out. At this point he says he's willing to do a 10-day contract. Note to Scottie: Hall of Fame players DON'T do 10-day contracts. If bit actors can get big cash for giving talks and showing up places, so can you. Don't embarass yourself in front of the entire world.

Pippen is obviously in a world of his own, and I'll leave you with his own words:
"I think people love me just as much as they love Michael," Pippen said. "The fans who understand the game, the GMs and coaches. I think they'd rather have a Scottie than a Michael. Because I'm an all-around player. Coaches would rather have a Scottie-type player than a Michael. I was an all-around player. I made people around me better."

Maybe Scottie should hang out with the guy pictured at the top...

23 February 2007

The End of Something Great

A beautiful view of Holman Stadium in Dodgertown, Vero Beach, FL.

When Frank McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004 for $357 million, fans were rightfully concerned. The man was an outsider, a Boston native, whose highly leveraged purchase of the Dodgers implied that a new fiscally conservative era was dawning for the team. Fans worried that the team was just another acquisition for McCourt, one designed to raise him from the realm of the very rich to the mega rich.

The fans' concerns seemed warranted. After all, this was a guy from one of the most diehard baseball towns in America, yet he wanted our team? (Previously McCourt had attempted to buy the Red Sox but had lost out to John Henry and his ownership group.) McCourt had also made his fortune as a real estate developer, and Chavez Ravine, the site of Dodger Stadium, is a potential goldmine if ever an owner had the gall to move the team to another site, tear down the stadium, and put up high-priced condos and hotels. That prospect seemed ever more likely with McCourt, though perhaps it was a sign that went unnoticed that McCourt's valuable waterfront property in Boston went undeveloped, instead being used as parking lots. (L.A. Times columnist and resident satirist T.J. Simers still calls McCourt The Parking Lot Attendant.)

So the fans were afraid. The L.A. Times' sports writers, a group very conscious of the team's storied tradition, were afraid as well. The prospect of a new owner had actually brought hope to Dodgers fans -- after decades under the paternal stewardship of the O'Malley family, the Dodgers had spent six years in thrall to the Fox Corporation. In baseball above all other sports, and for the Dodgers above all other teams, save perhaps the Yankees, family ownership means something. It carries certain comforts and implicit promises -- namely, that the fans and the team will be respected, that the team won't serve as just another revenue stream for a far-off corporate tycoon, and that the owners will be as invested as the fans are. Dodgers fans got another family -- in fact, Frank McCourt's wife, Jamie, was appointed Vice Chairman and President of the team -- but it was not the family we wanted, and by all accounts, the Dodgers were their second choice, a purchase made based on opportunity. It seemed that it could have been any other team that McCourt bought; only chance made it the Dodgers.

Over time, however, the fears dissipated. Whether McCourt ever had plans to tear down Chavez Ravine and only changed them because of the public outcry that would erupt is unclear. It's very possible, but McCourt offered no confirmation.

And as time passed, McCourt actually seemed to get a handle on what it takes to be a good owner. Though the Paul DePodesta era was seen by many as a foolish endeavor, it was a good move at the time. After all, like any good businessman, McCourt was only following the industry trends that seemed to have bred success -- sabremetrics, in this case -- and DePodesta had learned from the best, Oakland GM Billy Beane. Yet it was also McCourt's acute sensitivity to public opinion that likely caused him to prematurely fire DePodesta, just as the farm system that he and scouting director Logan White had rebuilt was beginning to bear fruit. Even so, McCourt did well again by hiring Ned Colletti as DePo's successor. Here was another qualified candidate, this one more of the old vanguard, having received his apprenticeship under Giants GM Brian Sabean. Most importantly, McCourt invested in his product -- he refurbished Dodger Stadium and allowed the Dodgers to spend money to acquire the players they needed.

The results were plain: attendance was at record levels in 2005 and 2006. While the team was painful to watch in 2005, in 2004 it had won its first playoff game since 1988, and the team bounced back in 2006, winning the wild card before being swept by the Mets in the NLDS.

But in the intervening period, the cracks began to show. McCourt's obsession with public image and fan perception and his heavy-handed use of PR firms drew criticism from the media. Los Angeles ostensibly is a town built on image, but when it comes to the Dodgers, this is not Hollywood, even if a few celebrities frequent the games. No, save that for the Lakers (whom we love all the same). The Dodgers are a different breed, a team that has almost miraculously retained its identity and its vigorous sense of tradition and history after the alleged betrayal of the Brooklyn exodus. They are a team that easily eschews all notions of demographics and class, in part because, unlike basketball, baseball tickets are rather affordable. The popularity of baseball in Latin America and Japan has also served to bring L.A.'s large minority populations to the ballpark in great numbers.

Beyond the mix of cultures, there is also something intoxicating in the air, a communal sense that develops during every game without fail, whether it's a beautiful 80-degree Sunday or a crisp night when the sun fades behind the palm-speckled hills, a sense that Damn, we are lucky to be alive and enjoying this together. In this incomparable milieu, Dodger fans share a mutual respect and passion (I cannot count the number of times I have high-fived a stranger after a home run) that is at once ineluctable and cherished. We know we are blessed by geography, weather, and the glories of the past. All that we ask from our owner in return is that he respects these things, that he respects us, and that he knows that the tradition, the mythos, the names -- Robinson, Hodges, Snider, Koufax, Drysdale, Valenzuela, Hershiser, and so, so many more -- can never be dismissed or forgotten.

It was with the names of Dodger greats, though, where McCourt first went wrong. The outfield wall of Dodger Stadium had, for a few years, been covered with a collage of Dodger legends accompanied by the years of their finest seasons. A year into McCourt's ownership, that homage was gone, replaced with advertising. Fair enough, we told ourselves. It is, after all, a business, and many other stadiums do the same. We comforted ourselves with the thought that our old friends might one day return and watch over the too-green grass again.

Of course, that hasn't happened yet, and I don't expect it to. Still, that action would perhaps be forgivable, given that McCourt has maintained the sanctity of Chavez Ravine and has allowed his general mangers to spend freely. But the time of tacit forgiveness is over, the time of simply tolerating McCourt not because he's done much that is good but rather because he hasn't done much that is bad is over. This off-season the Dodgers announced that they would leave Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, after spring training 2008. Instead, they will move to Glendale, Arizona, where they will share a site with the Chicago White Sox. There will be a 40,000-square foot clubhouse and a 15,000-seat stadium. Management claims that the new site is more suitable because of its proximity to Los Angeles, but when the New York Yankees are charging $190 for exhibition games, the motivation is clear. Dodger Stadium can't be torn down, so it's time to commoditize spring training instead.

The Dodgers have occupied Dodgertown since 1948, the longest tenure at a spring training site for any major league team except for the Detroit Tigers at Lakeland (1945). For a better understanding of the place and what it means not only to Dodger history but to baseball history, read Tom Verducci's excellent column.

Here's one important anecdote among many: Walter O'Malley chose Dodgertown in part because he felt that Jackie Robinson would experience less racism there than in some other Southern towns. Where is that sensitivity in Frank McCourt?

Though I have not been able to visit Dodgertown, by all accounts and the pictures available, it is a gorgeous place, a rolling expanse of fields, palm trees, and wide-open diamonds that Verducci rightfully calls “baseball heaven.” It is only fitting that in such an idyllic place young men can pursue their passions, can quite literally throw themselves into their dreams. And when the day ends, they can walk down Don Drysdale Drive, Vin Scully Way, Duke Snider Street, over the mounds that Koufax and Sutton and Drysdale tread, across the infields where Garvey and Cey played catch and Scioscia learned to block the plate.

Some of the Lion in Oil writers are planning a trip to Dodgertown next spring so that we can see it before it's gone. It's probably too late now for any sort of petition or letter-writing campaign. Too late to turn back the clock and enjoy it without knowing the end is in sight. But I wish we could all the same.

(Click here for more pictures of Dodgertown.)


Earlier this morning we passed 10,000 unique visitors. Thanks to everyone for visiting the site. It's been a great month so far. Keep coming back - the fun has just begun!

21 February 2007

John Brady Goes Crazy

It wouldn't be a new day without another crazy video. Everyone picked up on the classic "Tim Hardaway Hates LSU" sign, but perhaps even better was this ESPN halftime interview with LSU Head Coach John Brady.

Brady's reaction could have been worse, but the takehome here is really amazement that this doesn't happen more often. These coaches get so worked up, especially on the road, it's incredible more coaches don't blow up.
I went to the Laker game tonight, and enjoyed watching them lose their 6th straight game. It's really amazing what having a legendary coach does for a team. With any other coach, losing 6 straight would put them on the hotseat. But here in LA there are no firephil.com websites, or anything of the like. That's what 9 titles will do for you. And that's also why I have faith in his ability to turn things around.

Beautiful Game Update

Since its not a World Cup year most people think soccer doesn't exist anymore. Since the last World Cup sucked in terms of the quality of play, people should know that you can actually see something worth watching every once in a while.


The Champions League started its round of 16 matches yesterday and they will continue in 2 weeks time.

Many of the big boys of european football play in this tournament and won.

Manchester United won away to Lille 1-0
Real Madrid beat Bayern Munich 3-2 as Beckham's days in Spain come to an end
Defending champions Barcelona lost at home to Liverpool 1-2.
Chelsea drew 1-1 with coach Jose Mourinho's former Porto squad
and PSV beat Arsenal 1-0.

You can catch the second leg of these matches on ESPN 2 and ESPN Classic March 6 and 7.

Not to get ahead of ourselves, but the US Soccer foundation has stated that it wants to host the 2018 World Cup. England, and a joint bid with Belgium and the Netherlands are the other potential countries that can host the event. Logically speaking, that World Cup should go to a nation from North America or Australia as FIFA has stated that it is now rotating continents every four years for the World Cup. Since 2002 was in Asia, 2006 in Europe, 2010 in Africa, and 2014 should be in Brazil, you see where I'm coming from. But FIFA is capable of anything in terms of cheating and corruption, so who really knows where the competition will be held.

In any event the US also said that they would be willing to host the 2014 event if the host nation cannot build its stadiums sufficiently. This is distinctly a possibility as the America is one of the only countries in the world that has enough large stadiums that are safe to host the world's most watched sporting event. The same could probably only be said for Australia, England, Germany, France, Spain, Japan, Korea (Italy would have made this list, but they had some security problems a few weeks back).

What does this all mean? I will be able to go to a quality soccer match without having to fly over 10 hours.

New contact email!

We were having some trouble forwarding admin@lioninoil.com, so we got one of those ol' gmail account thingadoodles. Please email us at letthelionroar@gmail.com with whatever you got, and if you're one of our readers from abroad that I solicited in the post a few days ago, please email us again. Thank you!

20 February 2007

The NBA in Vegas: One Night Stand or Long-Term Relationship?

NOTE: This is the first official post of the newest member of the “Lion in Oil” crew who will be known for your purposes as “The Animal.” Don’t ask him how he got that nickname – but just realize that he can be very loud, especially when intoxicated, something he likes to do often. He also brings some diversity to the blog, having been a former sports columnist for The Michigan Daily and supports the Chicago Cubs.

Well, another NBA All-Star weekend has come and gone, and the entourages and stretch Hummer Limos that make up America's Hip-Hop scene will have to disperse for another 362 days (Get ready New Orleans!).

But the question that still remains is – beyond should be done, if anything, to improve a pretty boring game – was the affair between the NBA and Las Vegas a one-night stand or the beginning of a long-term relationship?

Most NBA fans heard David Stern give the softest stance a major pro sports commissioner has ever given towards the Sin City last weekend when he basically said that the owners would call the shots towards having a team in Vegas, leaving the proverbial door open for a franchise.
While this weekend proved what we already know – that anyone would be willing to come to Vegas for a good party – did it really prove that Vegas needs the NBA or that the NBA needs Vegas?

I, personally, say no to both questions.

You could argue that if there is one city that doesn't need a professional sports franchise – that city would be Vegas. People not only come from all over North America but all over the world for the things you can do in Vegas, mainly the gambling, the shopping, the shows, the strip clubs and the Thunder from Down Under. (Just kidding on the last one) If most Americans wanted to go watch NBA hoops in person, they wouldn't fly 1,500 miles. Most American cities need major league sports in order to improve its stature as a major league city. Vegas pretty much has its reputation carved out already.

Las Vegas Mayor and former mob lawyer Oscar Goodman has made it his personal mission to lure a team, and there is speculation that if Sacramento cannot upgrade Arco Arena that the Maloof Brothers, who own the Kings, would move their team to the same town as their Palms Casino.

But would an NBA franchise even survive in Vegas? The city doesn't even rank within the nation's top 40 TV markets. And, unlike many franchises in smaller cities, such as the Green Bay Packers, there is absolutely no regional population to draw fans from outside the market.

Yes, Vegas is one of America's fastest growing cities, but it still does not likely have a strong corporate base necessary to keep a pro franchise healthy. The only hope for a Vegas franchise would be for casinos to buy out suites for their high rollers. But, even then, what kind of draw would a suite be for a Kings-Hornets game on a Tuesday night when there are 50 other things to do that they can't do at home? And, are the people who moved to Vegas, mainly to work for either a casino or in construction, going to spend $70 a piece on tickets?

If I were Oscar Goodman, I would focus my time towards keeping Vegas a must see destination for anyone over 21 (and considering the reports of arrests this weekend, a little more police wouldn’t hurt either), not towards making it like everywhere else – just another city.

Washington's Birthday Odds and Ends

They call it President's Day. But it's really Washington's birthday. But yesterday wasn't really Washington's birthday. It was just February 19th. And it could also be known one of the most boring days of the sports year. No Football, no NBA, no real college games, no baseball games (but scroll down to HAK's post - it's good!). There's hockey, however the 476,000 or so people that watched the recent all-star game indicates that nobody really cares about that sport...

So here we go - -

Tom Brady's a Daddy
How about that! Bridget Moynahan is pregnant! It's his baby! Wow! There was a lot written about this today, indicating just how slow of a day it was. But, as my friend The Animal pointed out earlier, everyone else missed the real story. At age 36, nobody just gets pregnant by mistake. Something is going on that we're not aware of. It should be noted that should Baby Brady be a boy, and not suit up for Michigan in 2027, The Animal will be taking a cyanide pill. Also, let's hope Brady learns to hold the baby better than he's holding the goat...

Bobby Knight blasts the NBA eligibility rule -
Who cares! When was the last time Knight even coached a top flight NBA player? His thing is taking decent white guys and getting the most out of them. He's not affected by this rule, and he wasn't affected when there wasn't a rule in place. Those who can complain: Billy Donovan, Jim Calhoun, Roy Williams, Coach K.

Speaking of Calhoun, we sure haven't heard much from the Huskies, have we?

Vandy gets fined $25k for allowing fans to rush the court -

I get the spirit of the rule, but I don't like its application. These days fans rush the court way too often, too often for unwarranted reasons. Big time programs with big time traditions should not have fans rushing the court. Case in example - Indiana's defeat of Wisconsin. How many titles has each school won?

If rushing the court could be warranted, it would have been last week's Vandy win over Florida. They beat a #1 team! The defending champ! Hey, they're VANDY! It's too bad Vandy got fined, especially considering their small athletic budget. That being said, if that win gets them into the dance, then it was money well spent.

Vladimir Radmanovic "slips on ice," out 8 weeks -
As if his season couldn't get any worse...it just did! Paging Andrew Bynum, please stop picking up fouls, the Lakers are going to need you! Maybe the Lakers can find some legal basis to void the rest of Radmanovic's contract - one of the worst of the last off-season. Just one parting thought - can you imagine Radmanovic snowboarding?!
Over and out!

19 February 2007

MLB roundup.

Pitchers and catchers have reported. Position players have begun to as well. I now hear birds chirping in the morning. And there's only a 100 percent chance that an asteroid will destroy life on Earth. Oh and in 12 hours I will be getting ready for work. Again. Oh cruel world!

Wait -- what? Oh, right. Baseball. Sports. The blog. Yes. My apologies. Here's a roundup of some MLB news, complete with my pithy commentary. Do enjoy.

In a story straight out of the Beverly Hillbillies, journeyman pitcher Matt White is sitting on a $2.4 billion gold mine (well, mica schist actually). Life is absurd, but somehow this story gives me hope. Everyone, start digging in your yards now.

Barry Zito's been messing with his delivery and pitching coach Dave Righetti threw a fit. Now Zito might be going back to his old delivery. None of this really matters. Pitchers always try out different throwing motions and tinker with pitches during camp. This is only a story because los Gigantes have invested $126 mill. in the King of All Hippies (this is a term of endearment, I assure you). In other news, Brett Tomko is also trying a new throwing motion. No really, he is. I read it today on Dodgers.com. Oh, you don't care? These stories mean nothing? OK, that's right. Forgive me, I forgot. Moving on..

A Dodgers.com beat reporter speculates that Chad Billingsley might end up in the bullpen because he's been more efficient out of there (he lasted 5 1/3 innings per start last season). This would be a huge mistake. Billingsley showed that he could handle himself as a starter, and his supposed lack of efficiency as a starter is even more reason why, at such a young age, he should be allowed to continue starting and work out these issues on the mound, not sulking in the bullpen. And how many major league pitchers go more than 6 innings a start anyway? Sure, a fair number do, but many don't. And the rampant lack of durability among starters is the reason why "innings eater" has become a great compliment and why Jeff Weaver can get $8+ mill. from the Mariners.

Then again, Billingsley may not have to go to the pen if a) the Dodgers figure out what they're doing, and b) they trade Brad Penny. Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota, Baltimore, Toronto, and a host of other teams need starting pitching. The best major league-level hitters available may be Adam Dunn (just give him to us -- I don't care if he swings a tree trunk and bats .225), Rocco Baldelli, and Alex Rios, but either one would instantly make the Dodgers better. Of course, Colletti will probably find any way possible to give up way too much -- trust me, my cynicism is warranted -- but I'll take whatever offense we can get.

Alfonso Soriano and Felix Pie are boys now. This sort of story makes me happy. I'd also like audiotape of their conversations. Bush, can you start wire-tapping these guys for me?

Carlos Zambrano -- excuse me, 'Big Z' .. or Mr. Big Z -- demanded money from the Cubs or he'd walk, then retracted. This is the same guy who curses and screams into his glove every time he walks off the mound, so his truculence comes as no surprise. Maybe Big Z softened his demand because he realized what we all already knew: you're either going to be filthy, disgustingly rich or absurdly, GDP-of-an-island-nation-rich, so back off buddy. The nine-figure deal is coming. And when you're throwing up meatballs for the Rangers next year and then on the DL because you've been emailing your bro too much (yes, he did hurt himself this way once), you can call up Miguel Tejada, Chan Ho Park, and A Rod and say, "But what did we do wrong? Oh, let's just go burn some hundred dollar bills."

A Rod says his relationship with Jeter has cooled, which is no surprise. I'm not as much of an A Rod hater as some, but I think he'll opt out of his deal no matter what happens this year, and he'll be better off for it.

Two Yankees posts in a row. Please forgive me. But I think the more (only?) interesting Yankees story is Mike Mussina calling out Carl Pavano, saying that he has to earn the team's respect and accusing him of exaggerating his injuries, which he likely has. Then yesterday, Mussina backpedaled slightly and he and Carl made nice. That's fine, but I found Mussina's initial comments refreshing. It sounded like something from a hockey player, Steve Yzerman calling out some lagging second stringer. There was a toughness coming from Mussina that's rare among the Yanks, who in their pinstripes too often seem like burned-out investment bankers, rather than ballplayers. Even if healthy, I don't think Pavano puts up anything better than a 4.75 ERA. He was never very good to begin with, a low strikeout guy who had one all-star caliber season in a spacious park, and now he's been hurt, brutalized in the media and by his teammates, and pitching in the AL (automatic +1 to the ERA) for the most watched team in the sport. Need more proof? Peep this comment from Pavano, which just makes him seem clueless:

"Obviously, I've got to go out there and pitch. Other than that, I don't think there's really much left to do," Pavano said. "I know a lot of these guys obviously are frustrated. I think it's more of a compliment. They're frustrated because they know I can help them, and I haven't been able to do that."
Yes, Carl, your teammates have been utterly despondent over the past two years, knowing that getting humiliated in the playoffs by their arch-rivals and watching them win a World Series could have been averted if only your Golden Arm were healthy. Once again, this man must remember that these are the major leagues, and even Steinbrenner doesn't like paying a guy $17 mill. to sit on the DL for two years.

That's all for now. Fantasy baseball is up and running on Yahoo! sports. The Founding Four -- Goran, Sheriff, Kaiserman, and I -- are in a Yahoo! keeper league with some other fellas. The draft is a month away. I'm already preparing. We'll keep you apprised of league developments as time goes on -- no worries there. Look for a fantasy beisbol post.. soon?

Happy President's Day

Today is President's Day, and the Sheriff would like to thank all of the great presidents for his day off of work. Well, and thank you to just about everyone except the man above...

Look for more later today.

17 February 2007

And the Knicks Shall Rise Again

While a majority of our writers have West Coast addresses and pledge allegiance to the various California sports teams, I thought it was time for this Brooklyn born-and-bred writer to address an East-Coast sports-related issue that has begun to play funny games with my mind. Namely, the New York Knicks.

As a die-hard Knick fan growing up in Patrick Ewing's heyday (can it even be defined as that?), John Stark's ill-advised 34 foot chucks and Charles Oakley's elbows, I am used to the agony of defeat, the "what-if" scenarios and finger-rolls that just don't roll into the basket. But the last 6 seasons of Knickerbocker basketball have proven to be the ultimate test of one fan's allegiances in the face of utter player futility, coaching incompetence and an owner who relishes playing in an awful band while watching his franchise implode and disintegrate. Sadly, I failed that test.

My interest in the Knicks, as well as the NBA, waned, replaced by a growing (perhaps, rabid) enthusiasm for college basketball and the Wisconsin Badgers. My father and I, both true lovers of the NBA in the mid-90s, grew disenchanted with a league full of 19-year-old misogynistic thugs who were lauded for their ability to "jump" and their "wingspans" though they couldn't hit a 10-foot jumper to save face. Players like Jonathan Bender, Dajuan Wagner and Eddie Griffin, all lauded and hyped for their freakishly athletic intangibles, have become part of the "Where Are They Now" drinking game I play at the bar with friends (Eddie, by the way, was caught watching and masturbating to porn in his SUV last March. Quality, friends, quality).

Yet, something changed this year. Perhaps it was Isiah Thomas taking the reigns and reading about his not-so-deft overthrow of his predecessor, Larry Brown. Seriously, how malicious and kiniving is this man? Underneath the soft-spoken facade lies a man as evil as Keyser Soze. Cynically and happily, I wanted to see if Isiah could fuck up just one more thing in his post-playing career. I wanted to see Isiah strap-up one more time, call his buddies Rodman, Laimbeer, Dumars and Mahorn and return the Knicks to their glory days of heart-shattering mediocrity.

But something funny happened on the way to hell. The Knicks showed signs of improvement and development. Eddy Curry (who still can't shoot a jumpshot 6 feet away from the hoop) began to develop into the inside force everyone thought he could be. David Lee, the homeless-looking white kid from Florida, decided to become the reincarnation of Dennis Rodman/Tom Chambers. Stephon Marbury has begun to play defense (no, I'm not kidding). And every night, Jamal Crawford looks less and less like he has Tourette's while dribbling the basketball. And Stevie Franchise....Well, let's just not go there.

For all of my antipathy and animosity for today's game, the Knicks have decided to provide me with one last glimpse, one last hope. If they play as well as they did against Lakers the other night, I might just have to go back to New York and give Spike that five we both so desperately need and want.

16 February 2007

Lou Dobbs would hate us.

You see, we love foreigners. Of all kinds. Whether it's The Good German, Dirk Nowitzki, and his wild mane, Bartolo Colon's incredible weight gain, Evgeni Malkin's monolingual capabilities (I'll teach you English, E), or even Justin Morneau (Canadian), we love 'em all. We love their quirks, their goofs with the language, and their stories of the old country. And on a more serious note, some of the most entertaining and contributory athletes in recent years have come from abroad. Steve Nash and Albert Pujols are two who have displayed top-level athletic skills while also acting as exemplary citizens. (Mr. Pujols is now a U.S. citizen after scoring 100% on his test. Congrats, Al.) And among baseball players, it is frequently the Dominican and Latin American players who have come from impoverished backgrounds who prove to be the most charitable. These men remember having no shoes and using milk cartons for gloves, and the contributions by some of them have been extraordinary.

So with all of that in mind, we're reaching out to the foreigners among the Lion in Oil audience. As of this posting, we've had visitors from Canada, Australia, France, Mexico, India, the Philipines, Taiwan, Denmark, Israel, Brazil, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Finland, Switzerland, China, Sweden, Iceland, Argentina, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Germany, the U.K., Portugal, and the U.S. military. And while not quite a foreign country, we've even had a couple visits from people at the Advanced Research Projects Agency.

We want to hear from you -- especially the dude in Iceland. Please email us at letthelionroar@gmail.com. Tell us where you live, how you found the site, which sports you follow, which sports you play. Do you follow American sports? Are there any athletes from your home country playing in America that you follow? Can you even understand these words? If you're an American abroad, let us know how you got there. We want to know all. Hopefully we'll get a good crop of answers, and we'll post some of them up here.

So in the meantime, let's be thankful for the Canadian mullet, Pedro's geri curl, Divac's flops, Nomomania, and yes, even David Beckham.

We look forward to hearing from you.


In the latest of a rash of NASCAR cheating scandals, Jeff Gordon’s car failed a post-race inspection and as a result his starting position has been bumped back for the Daytona 500. Not being a huge NASCAR fan, I don’t really know or care about what all of this means.

What I do like though (in case you couldn’t tell by now) are good audio clips, and this one is pretty solid.

It turns out that nobody told Jeff his car failed an inspection, until this reporter began to question him on the issue. Gordon is clearly caught by surprise.

In other news, in case you haven’t heard by now, Charles Barkley and referee Dick Bavetta will be racing each other prior to the three-point shooting contest at the All-Star Weekend. The entire race stems from this conversation with Marv Albert during a game.

The whole situation has prompted me to think about others who I would like to see race each other:

Britney Spears v. Jessica Simpson
The race of the century between the two washed-up, blond bimbo singers. A few special rules for this one… Spears needs to come sauced-up to the race and Simpson needs to run in high heels. Because let’s face it, unless they fall flat on their faces while running (a metaphor for the current state of their careers), the entertainment value of the race is considerably lower.

Randall Simon v. The Guy in the Sausage Costume
Because the sausage wants his revenge for the bat incident a few years back, and he’s going to get it doing what he does best… Sprinting around the base paths dressed as a giant wiener.

Mayor McCheese (pictured above) v. Mr. Met
It’s a proven fact that racing mascots are funny. But racing mascots with gigantic heads are even funnier. And, I’m sure that Mr. Met has been looking to wipe that pompous smile off McCheese’s face for a while (or maybe it’s just me).

Barry Bonds v. Bud Selig
Here’s the catch for this one – Selig is allowed to MASSIVELY abuse steroids for a month or two leading up to the race. I'm talking the cream, the clear, injections, pills... heck, give the guy Flinstones Chewable Vitamins if they would help. Anything to give Barry a taste of his own medicine.

15 February 2007

Hawks Announcer, Part Deux

Awful Announcing and the Mighty MJD have put together the video for the Hawks Announcer gone wild. Enjoy!


14 February 2007

The Other Amaechi Shoe Drops

Lots has been made about former NBA player John Amaechi coming out of the closet last week. Synergy minded ESPN has been pimping the story for days on end. Almost more interesting than Amaechi's coming out was the almost exclusively positive reception from the sports and NBA community. Mark Cuban said an active NBA player coming out would become rich, and even Chris Broussard, of ESPN, as well as a "a born-again, Bible-believing Christian" had a positive reaction. With all of this positive energy flowing from this story, it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.

Former NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway stepped in today to fill that void, stepping out to voice his opposition to Amaechi. Not only did Hardaway come out against Amaechi's action, but went far enough to say that he hates gay people. Let Tim tell you in his own words just how he feels:

"First of all I wouldn't want him on my team," said Hardaway. "Second of all, if he was on my team I would really distance myself from him because I don't think that's right and I don't think he should be in the locker room when we're in the locker room."

"Well, you know, I hate gay people," Hardaway said in response to Le Batard. "I let it be known I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. It shouldn't be in the world, in the United States, I don't like it."

It's not surprising that someone voiced their opposition to this, as we live in a country where numerous states have voted in favor of anti-gay marriage ammendments. Such dissent, however, is usually done in a subtle, subversive way. That someone spoke out so virulently, especially a seasoned 5-time All Star like Tim Hardaway did it, is a bigger surprise. Hardaway should have known better, and in the end he'll be more well known for his ill-advised comments than the great career he had.


We here at Lion in Oil have found a pretty solid follow-up to the Dan Hawkins audio.

Steve Holman is the radio play-by-play guy for the Atlanta Hawks, and has been for the past 22 seasons. He’s the kind of guy that you love to listen to if you happen to root for the Hawks because of his passion for the team.

During the Hawks 102-76 loss to the Utah Jazz on Monday night, with his team up by 34, Rafael Araujo (pictured here while on the Raptors and doing his best impression of an eagle trying to eat a baby mouse) committed a hard, flagrant foul 2 (ignore the bothersome commentary on the video) on Marvin Williams of the Hawks, resulting in an immediate ejection from the game. Apparently, the two had some history, dating back to an altercation during game in the Summer League this year.

Now, here comes Steve Holman’s call on the foul. He blatantly doesn’t think very highly of Araujo, doing just about everything except insulting his mother. You have to enjoy anytime a play-by-play guy can incorporate the phrase "he has to show what a big man he is."

Holman continues his call on the play, describing the ejection.

Here comes the really good part. As Araujo is being ejected, the crowd begins to give Araujo a standing ovation, drawing the ire of Steve Holman, who refers to them as “classless”.

One thing is for certain – Steve Holman is soon to be the most hated man in Utah since President James Buchanan tried to ban polygamy (it wouldn’t be an article on Salt Lake City if I didn’t drop a bad polygamy joke).

12 February 2007


It has now become official... the University of Colorado head football coaches give some of the most interesting sound bites around.

Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins recently had this to say during one of his press conferences….

What a great press conference quotation. It really has it all. He starts off sounding calm (although definitely annoyed), lulling you into a false sense of security. Before you know it, he whips himself into a rage that would make Lou Pinella proud. What really makes it a classic though is the fact that he drops a ‘brother’ at the end, as if he were Hulk Hogan cutting a pre-match promo against Brutus ‘the Barber’ Beefcake.

I’ll rank it up there in terms of all-time coach rants with Herm Edwards, Jim Mora, Hal McRae, Dennis Green and Lee Elia amongst others (click on the links, they’re an entertaining listen – I’ll also warn you in advance, Lee Elia uses some salty language).

Speaking of Colorado coaches, you may remember a few years back when former U of C coach Gary Barnett defended his players against allegations of raping former teammate and female placekicker Katie Hnida by essentially saying that it potentially happened because of her lack of ability on the field:

"It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful. You know what guys do? They respect your ability. You can be 90 years old, but if you can go out and play, they'll respect you… Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There's no other way to say it. She couldn't kick the ball through the uprights."

Maybe it’s time for Colorado to ban all media from campus.

On second thought, if Hawkins is going to keep spouting gold such as that, let’s sign him up for his own reality show.

11 February 2007

The Sweetness Arrives

Forgive us here at Lion in Oil for being late to the College Basketball Power Rankings party. You see, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and we’ve spent hours meticulously constructing Valentines for Shavlik Randolph and Steven Hunter. Still, it’s inexcusable, and won’t happen again. Check back the next few weeks, every Monday, for Bullwinkle’s Sweet Sixteen, AKA “The Sweetness.” Enjoy.

1.) Florida--22-2, (10-0)

Even on their off nights, the Gators can go on the road and silence volatile, monochromatically dressed crowds, as they proved Saturday night with their win over Kentucky in the House That Racism Built (just kidding, Kentucky fans, sort of). Sharpshooter Lee Humphrey was errant with his threes, frontcourt man beasts Joakim Noah and Al Horford were in foul trouble and combined for 12 points, and Florida still won. If it’s not Humphrey or Horford or Noah, it’s Corey Brewer, the Tennessee kid with the baggy undershirt and freakish wingspan. Brewer can handle the ball and defend, and at 6’9 creates a mismatch at small forward against any lineup. The Gators still have road dates with LSU and Tennessee, but an unblemished SEC record could easily happen. An Atlanta coronation on the last day in March looks likely, as long as Noah doesn’t get into a fight with a student section between now and then. And while The Sweetness would love a battle royale between a ponytailed Franco-Swede and a Vandy kid with Skoal in his bottom lip, one that involved cries of Ndongo and bloody boat shoes, we don’t want any excuses for Billy D’s boys come tournament time.

2.) Wisconsin--24-2, (10-1)

Bo Ryan’s Badgers continue to mow through the Big Ten slate like a self-propelled John Deere. In case you haven’t been bludgeoned to death already with the Coach-Ryan’s-teams-are-committed-to-defense candlestick, allow me to administer the blow. No one has scored 70 on these guys since Pittsburgh in December, and they lost by 14. They will make you play their game, plain and simple, a half-court variety where you better hope damn well you hit your open shots. Too much reliance on POY candidate Alando Tucker could be an issue, but the Badger frontcourt hits the boards and can shoot the three (especially Brian Butch), and Tucker overshadows the underrated Kammron Taylor, who is apparently a thixophobe. (A what, you pretentious fool?) Their defense and experience separate them from Ohio State, and the rematch with the Buckeyes in Columbus is the only game Wisconsin could possibly lose the rest of the way. A lock for a top seed.

3.) UCLA--21-3, (10-2)

Yes, The Sweetness is aware that the Bruins went to John Denverland over the weekend and lost to a certain Big East team still coping with the loss of their savior, but it’s not a big deal. Seriously. They were missing their remote control car for a point guard, Darren Collison, and fell behind early on the road against a team starved for a signature win. Call them the Wisconsin of the west, although they’re probably stronger offensively, with guys like Josh Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute supporting the immensely talented Arron Afflalo. The Sweetness would also like to call attention to the latest character on a team that already has a snake-eating prince and an aesthetic wonder: Jim Halpert is on UCLA’s roster this year. Don’t believe us? Check it out. Yes, that’s right. The heartthrob from NBC’s hit comedy, “The Office,” has been seeing limited minutes in Westwood. All we have to say is that if his schooling of Roy in the warehouse is any indication of his game, Ben Howland should get dude some minutes, pronto. Maybe it’s Karen’s fault. But isn’t everything?

4.) North Carolina--22-3, (8-2)

We haven’t seen nearly as much of these powder bluebloods as we should have, but big road wins put these uber-talented youngsters in the top tier. The comparisons between this year’s freshmen class of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, and Brandan Wright, and the ’03 class of Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, and Sean May are inevitable, and the Sweetness will happily provide comparisons of said players, starting next week. Heels need a win this Saturday at Boston College to prove to the Sweetness that they have the moxie for March run. Yes, they’re deeper than a Malcolm Gladwell work, but we’re afraid they lack the chin stubble of the top three. Tyler Hansbrough hasn’t made a huge sophomore leap, but this is largely because of the talent around him. We can’t get enough of this son of an orthopedic surgeon, a guy whose nickname is Psycho T and who recently told Sports Illustrated of his desire to be a roadie for Insane Clown Posse. Come on, Pscyho. Give us more. That suburban teenage outsider well isn’t completely dry just yet. Did you write-in for Che Guevara as your high school Homecoming King? Take your Accutane with a number four combo meal from Taco Bell? Please tell.

5.) Texas A&M--21-3, (9-1)

Huge dropoff to the two seeds, but this football school is hardly masquerading for the Big Dance. The Aggies are yet another team loaded with athletes and a defense-first mentality. Most of the parts returned from a team that ended Gerry McNamara’s career and nearly knocked off LSU in last year's NCAA Tournament. Those games were not a fluke. They played UCLA tough in December, and have beaten everyone on their Big 12 menu except Texas Tech. Acie Law IV might be the best point guard in the country, outplaying other conference stars like Brandon Rush I and Kevin Durant I (yes, he outplayed him) in wins over Kansas and Texas. Law IV and swingman scorer Josh Carter allow A&M to play at breakneck speed if they want, but they can bloody lips, too. The frontcourt of Joseph Jones and Antanas Kavaliauskas rebound well and average in double figures in points. The Sweetness is pretty sure that the Lithuanian lane-owner’s name doesn’t exactly roll off tongues in button-up College Station, but as long as Billy Gillespie’s squad stays in the Top 10, does it really matter?

6.) Kansas--21-4, (8-2)

Some games these guys sing like Paul, other games they sing like Ringo. Inconsistency may ultimately do in this able young bunch, but they certainly have the talent for a run. The roster contains not a single senior, but freshmen and sophomores fill out the Jayhawk lineup just fine. Julian Wright and Darrell Arthur looked the Florida frontcourt square in the eye back in November, and Kansas emerged victorious. Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, and Sherron Collins offer Bill Self outstanding guard play, combining to average 36 points a game. But for every convincing win against teams like Florida, Boston College and USC, Kansas stubs its toe against lowly DePaul, or Oral Roberts. This team can only rise to the top if it finds a go-to guy, and Rush is the most likely candidate for the job. The Jayhawks are at their best in an up-tempo affair, as recent slaughters of Kansas State and Colorado indicate. Self needs his young talent, which has developed a reputation for not playing as a unit, to develop cohesion before Selection Sunday. Until they stop folding like they did in the second half against Texas A&M (in Lawrence, mind you) and Texas Tech, the glass ceiling will remain.

Coming soon: 7 through 11

10 February 2007

Lawsuits, NBA, homophobia -- you know, the usual.

The definition of frivolous lawsuit: a guy sued the Angels for discriminating against men for a Mothers Day promotion in which tote bags were given to women. He's expected to appeal. Utterly absurd. Next he'll be suing them for age discrimination for giving baseball cards to 8-year olds.

Said Angels attorney Bill Custer: "You can quibble about whether we should have sent somebody up to pinch-hit, but not about this." Bill Shearer, another Angels attorney, said he expected Rava to appeal.

In case you haven't read the reactions of Steven Hunter, Shavlik Randolph, and LeBron James to John Amaechi coming out, I'll just say they're despicable and leave it at that.

Some other NBA thoughts:

  • The 76ers have little going for them beyond homophobia among their players and Kyle Korver's half Geico cave man/half Ashton Kutcher thing. But it does seem that AI's exit has forced Andre Iguodala to develop his offense game more and become more assertive. I haven't been able to watch him play lately (but honestly, who would want to watch that team?), but peep the stats from 4 February games: 24.3 points, 7 rebs, 9.3 assists, 2 steals. He had a triple double the other day and has games of 13 and 15 assists this month. He was pretty good before that, too. Basically I think Iguodala is Dwyane Wade with less offensive instincts and a better natural defender. Both are insanely athletic, strong, able to drive past anyone to the basket, great rebounding guards, and can't shoot the 3. Here's to hoping the 76ers get someone in the lottery to match his skills.
  • I promise this is the last one about the team from Iladelph: Joe Smith had $100,000 in jewelry stolen from his hotel room. This is not why this team is bad, but I think we're beginning to get the picture.
  • The Rockets are my sleeper playoff team. I still don't think they can beat the Suns or the Mavs, but they've been rolling since T Mac came back, despite Yao's injury. T Mac looks like his old self -- please watch the back -- and not too long ago, I was wondering if he'd ever resurface.
  • Pau Gasol's averaging 20.6 points, 8.8 rebs, 3.1 assists, and 2.3 blocks since coming back from injury and is lighting it up so far in February. He's become one of the best passing big men in the game. As for the team, they're miserable but have more pieces than the 76ers, I think. It's just a shame that Damon Stoudamire is their best guard. If they can pick someone up like Acie Law IV in the draft, they'll have a nice core of Law IV, Gasol, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, and Mike Miller plus roleplayers Lawrence Roberts and Stromile Swift, one of LIO's favorite players and an amazing human. Then again, West may blow it all up and trade Gasol away for nothing -- looks like there's a chance of that happening.
  • This might as well go in the NBA section: I love Kevin Durant. But who doesn't? That's all about him. Oh and I can't wait until the NBA draft when Chad Ford talks about how long he is about 547 times. If this were a drinking game, we'd all be dead.
Did you hear? Mike Tyson checked himself into rehab to deal with "various addictions." Why couldn't this have happened before he spent $400 million dollars and bought the two white bengal tigers? Actually, keep the tigers.

And then there's this wonderful blurb from Joakim Noah, generously passed along by Bullwinkle:

"John Lennon, great guy, really held it down in the 60's," Noah said. "To me, John Lennon, New York City, he's a Beatle, just a guy against war. It means a lot. I know my Mom really likes him -- that's why I put him up there. Big-time dude, John Lennon."

The article, which is about Noah, Corey Brewer, Al Horford, and Taurean Green and is quite good, can be found here.

08 February 2007

Come get your fantasy tips, you mongrels!

In my last post, I talked about how much free information is out there on the net, a lot of the same stuff that can be found in $5 fantasy baseball magazines. Recently ESPN and CNNSI have come out with their fantasy player rankings. (ESPN's fantasy rankings are actually only available through ESPN Insider, but a lot of info. of this sort is among their free material.) These rankings can be a good guide for fantasy novices or for reminding you that Royce Clayton still plays professional baseball.

Keep in mind that these rankings are generally pretty conservative and geared towards standard 5x5 roto formats. They depend largely on last year's performance translating again to this year, and you'll never find any facts that will.. well, that will do anything at all. But again, they may remind you of some players you forgot, guys to look out for who were once up and coming but have fallen on hard times, like Casey Kotchman of the Angels. OK, enough funny stuff. Here are some early fantasy ruminations.

Be mindful of the Contract Year Effect. Last year Gary Matthews, Jr. came out of nowhere, had his first great year at age 31 (in a great hitters park), and Angels GM Bill Stoneman gave him $50 million. It's really that easy. And it's that easy to know you shouldn't draft him. His career OPS is .755 for a reason.

But that doesn't mean you can't take advantage of the CYE this year. With his recent power explosion, Andruw Jones is hardly undervalued, but in 2007, his contract year, he should be good for 40+ HR and about the same number of visits to Atlanta area strip clubs. Ichiro will also be in a contract year, but he's always a lock to put up good numbers.

Instead, look out for more mid-range guys, the occasionally inconsistent players who are clearly capable of putting up an All-Star season, or who at least may put together a good few months as they start smelling a payday. Rocco Baldelli, Hank Blalock, Pat Burrell, Carlos Delgado, Ryan Dempster, Morgan Ensberg, Rafael Furcal, Felipe Lopez, Kevin Mench and Brad Penny are among the players who will be free agents or can opt out of their deals. There are many others potentially on this list, and it can take a keen eye to judge if someone's just having a good month (on other hand, keep in mind traditionally slow starters), but I expect Blalock, Ensberg, Lopez, and Mench to be prime CYE candidates this year.

Eligibility can make a huge difference in some leagues. Last season I had Josh Willingham as my catcher for much of the year in my main Yahoo! League. Instead of being the starting catcher for the Fish, as some expected, he played 132 games in left field and put up very good numbers for a catcher-eligible player. Mike Piazza will likely have catcher eligibility in a lot of leagues, but he should be the starting DH and occasional backup catcher for the A's. He could put up some near-vintage Mike Piazza numbers again. Check out his home/road splits from last year. Others who may fall in this category:

  • Bill Hall, who may qualify for shortstop and other positions but is expected to start in center field for the Brewers. Unlike Matthews, I think Hall's numbers last year were legit, though 35 HR again may be expecting too much. Still, he's not unlike the guy he's replacing in CF, Brady Clark, a hardworking, fairly talented player who just needed a chance. He could be a mid- to late-round steal, assuming he keeps his strikeouts down.
  • Mark Teahen, another player chronicled in Moneyball, quietly put it together last year. The Royals will be awful again, but they actually have some decent talent now. He should be playing outfield with superprospect Alex Gordon playing 3B, but if you're in the late rounds and in need of a 3B, check on Teahen's eligibility.
  • There have been rumblings that the Indians will one day move Victor Martinez to first base, where his horrid defense won't be a liability and his offense may be more consistent without the burden of catching. With young masher Ryan Garko at first and no viable everyday catcher, this isn't happening soon. But look out for a trade – perhaps struggling top catching prospect Jared Saltalamacchia in a package deal from the Braves? Even so, Martinez is the #2 or 3 fantasy catcher, so he'll be gone quickly.

Let's take a look at some of the other positions.

Second base is perhaps the weakest position in mixed leagues, but I love Josh Barfield in Cleveland, Rickie Weeks, and Howie Kendrick. Look for a comeback from Marcus Giles, too. Jose Vidro? Unfortunately, not so much. His knees are nonexistent.

Shortstop has some good options. Reyes is obviously the best because of his steals combined with burgeoning power. In two years, Hanley Ramirez may be just as valuable as Tejada or Jeter. Carlos Guillen gets nicked a lot, but he always puts up good numbers and had the best OPS among shortstops last year. (Bill Hall was third.) I think Jhonny Peralta was a fluke, one who is now very well compensated, but he's not a bad guy to stash on your bench if you have the room. Look forward to Troy Tulowitzki's arrival in Colorado – great name, and he should be the pre-venison Barmes with a rocket arm.

Third base: Ryan Zimmerman may have a better year than Scott Rolen in 2007. Alex Gordon is only a year or two behind. I think Chad Tracy is better than he played last year, and he has a sick lineup developing around him in Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Chris Young, and Stephen Drew, all of whom are future all-stars and should be on your fantasy radar, either as late round picks or mid-season pickups. I think Eric Chavez will be lucky to put up a .285/35/115 season even once over the rest of his career. What happened to him? Edwin Encarnarcion still has developing to do. I'd rank him after all of the aforementioned 3B.

Outfield is clearly one of the deepest positions, unless you play in a league requiring LF/CF/RF, so I won't go much into the stars, except to say that I like Jermaine Dye, but expect numbers slightly below last season.
  • Young guys that I love, who aren't quite established: Baldelli (he's back and already improving), Nick Markakis, Delmon Young (sans attitude), Jeremy Hermida (too complete a player not to put it together if he's healthy), and Quentin.
  • Caution on: Matt Kemp (top-flight talent, but when will he play?), Jeff Francoeur (still remains to be seen if he can turn into a a successful free swinger, a mix of Vlad and Garret Anderson, or if he'll stay stuck in neutral), Alex Rios (finally had his power year, but don't overrate him yet – good third outfielder), Chris Duncan.
  • NO BRO on: Milton Bradley, Griffey, J.D. Drew (trust the Dodgers fans), Matthews, Jose Guillen.
That's enough for now. I'll cover catchers, first basemen, DH, and pitchers in a future post. We'll also go into some more in-depth statistical breakdowns in the coming weeks, using some of the great information available in Ron Shandler's book, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, etc. Now go away.