30 March 2007

Do Not Play Volleyball In Greece

Greece is a big tourist destination, and combines great history, culture, and scenery. It also appears to have some crazy fans. In an interesting move, the Greek government has suspended all professional sports for two weeks after a fan was killed in a riot before a women's volleyball match.

A man was killed and seven others were hospitalized Thursday when fans from rival women's volleyball clubs Panathinaikos Athens and Olympiakos Piraeus fought near Athens.

"Violence in sport is something that affects our entire society ... and cannot be tolerated," government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said Friday after an emergency cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

It looks like the Greeks may have found the culprits...
Police on Friday raided 15 supporters' clubs of Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, and homes of prominent club members, seizing dozens of makeshift weapons including pick axes, iron bars and baseball bats.
Pick axes? Iron bars? Really? Have they been watching too much of the Sopranos?

This isn't the first time Greek sports fans have acted unruly. Particularly in soccer:
The national soccer team is likely to face sanctions from UEFA following Greece's 4-1 home loss to Turkey on Saturday in a European Championship qualifier. Greek fans clashed among themselves and also pelted Turkish players with sticks, coins and plastic water bottles.

In Thursday's clashes, several dozen fans on motorcycles clashed with rival supporters, hurling petrol bombs and rocks. At least two cars and three stores were damaged, police said.

This behavior, particularly the volleyball incident raises a number of questions. First, just what was anyone doing at a professional women's volleyball match? Here in the US we couldn't get a pro women's soccer league to survive, and the WNBA surely wouldn't without its steadfast support from David Stern and the NBA. How does this women's league survive in Greece? Secondly, if one man and seven others were injured in the riot, does that mean there were only eight people at the match? Who goes to such things? Go to the beach!

Another question, which HAK brings to my attention: why is it that fans in other countries go so insane? Something similar happened in Italy in February, where a policeman was killed, and this sort of incident seems to be commonplace. It seems to happen everywhere except the US and Canada? What's the deal - both with us, and with them?

The take home message is this: when you're in Greece for vacation, maybe think twice before taking part in a game of beach volleyball...

29 March 2007

Harbaugh Only Wishes Carroll Would Leave


Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh has found a way for his team to beat USC - have Pete Carroll leave the program. Harbaugh told CBS Sportsline's Dennis Dodd that Carroll would depart the program after the 2007 season.

"He's only got one more year, though. He'll be there one more year. That's what I've heard. I heard it inside the staff."

He heard it from inside the staff? Really Jim?
"I've heard it from multiple people secondhand, from people that have talked to people on the SC staff," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh added that he was "simply stating what I heard from a lot of other people," and also said, "I don't claim to be the definitive source on what Pete Carroll is going to do."


Harbaugh is obviously no journalist. Basing facts on secondhand sources just doesn't fly. Maybe while he's up on the farm he can audit a journalism class or something like that.

Coming off a 1-11 campaign, Harbaugh needs all the help he can get. But it will take more than just Carroll departing for Stanford to have a chance in the Pac-10. Has he also heard from an inside source that Jeff Tedford is leaving Cal? Mike Bellotti leaving Oregon?

Jim Harbaugh's hopes of a Pete Carroll departure are nothing but wishful thinking. He's up in the clouds, and even Carroll himself agrees.
"If he's going to make statements like that, he ought to get his information right," Carroll said. "And if he has any questions about it he should call me."

Lorenzo Mata Is One Tough Guy


Over at the LA Times, Diane Pucin has a great story about UCLA Center Lorenzo Mata. The member of Ben Howland's stellar inaugural recruiting class (Farmar, Afflalo, Shipp) Mata's stellar play this season has helped the Bruins return to the Final Four. If there's anything to be taken away from the story it's this: Mata is one tough dude.

Not smooth, but tough.

His trademark play: taking a charge. Among his proudest moments this season: When he vomited against Weber State in the first round of the NCAA tournament and came right back in the game.

"I was tough, man," the center says.

This trademark toughness has allowed Mata to selflessly fill the cracks and do the little things that need to be done. But back to the toughness.
Mata refers to himself as a "rough and tumble" player. What Knight and Howland noticed was that he had the legs of a weight lifter and a fearless attitude.

"He's had two broken legs, a broken nose, poked in the eye, so much stuff," Howland says of Mata's toughness. "He loves to take a charge. The kid is great."


I get it. He's tough. It's not just physical strength. It's also mental. And he's used it to get over being called ugly on these internets (not here), and the shame of being photographed by the pool with numerous bikini clad women (see above).
"Lorenzo is one of the shyest but coolest guys I've ever known," Cabrera says. "He's got his Sidekick, his trademark hats. He's got some jewelry, some baggy pants. Lorenzo thinks he's at the forefront of all the social trends. If someone tries to make a mockery of him, he brushes it off. That's his trademark too."


Finally, let's let Bill Walton give a final take on the lad. Remember, Walton's never been shy with his words...
"It's not how big you are, but how big you play. It's not how high you jump, but when you jump. I love the way Mata is playing right now."

If UCLA is going to beat Florida and avenge its embarrassing loss last year, Mata IS going to have to jump high - and do a whole lot more.

Final Four For School Credit? I'm In!


Many people attend the Final Four each year, and millions more watch on TV. But imagine attending the Final Four for school credit? A dozen lucky students from South Florida's Lynn University will be doing just that this weekend.

The students are all majoring in sports management, and the trip is part of a course titled: "The Final Four Experience.'' The students will earn three credits for their hard work. Is this just a big vacation? Perhaps:

The trip cost $3,250 per student. It may seem pricey but the total covered the cost of the class, a hotel room for six nights, food, round trip airline tickets, two rental minivans, a Georgia Tech baseball game and Thrashers hockey game, along with the Final Four and championship games at the Georgia Dome.


But, alas no. Those three credits will have to be earned! And not just by keeping score at the games...
Before and after the trip, students take examinations on the NCAA's complex revenue distribution plan, complete papers on stadium design, conduct in-class debates on intercollegiate athletics' amateurism status and prepare multi-media presentations on major sports facility and event operations.

They'll also have to keep a journal and take notes. Does buying the program count?

Putting jealousy aside, this seems like a win-win for everyone involved (except the parents dolling out the cash for the trip). The students get some first-hand experience in the field they wish to enter. Lynn University, on the other hand, gets some attention they wouldn't be getting otherwise. It might be said this course is there just for the publicity. If you don't believe me, go to their website - a banner ad for the trip and press release is just a click away. With only 2,373 applicants last year, and an admissions rate of 80%, Lynn must be hoping applications go up, and admissions go down as a result of this. I guess if you can't get your team into the big dance, you have to make waves in a different manner.

Perhaps one of the students going on the trip sums it up best:
"This trip is a stepping stool for us,'' said senior Joaquin Smits from New York, who has never visited Atlanta. "That's why I don't mind doing any extra work.''

That's right Joaquin! Don't cheer too hard this weekend!

28 March 2007

LIO Ring of Honor: Jonathan Wallace


In the sports blogosphere it's a rare sight to see a story about someone who seems to be a all-around good guy. Well here's one for you: Georgetown's Jonathan Wallace. The Junior stamped his name in the history books last Sunday when he hit the game-tying three pointer against UNC that eventually put them into overtime. An Alabama native, Wallace grep up on an 80-acre cattle farm. Wallace's three years in DC have proven that you can take the kid out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the kid.

Wallace's take on transportation in the nation's capitol?

"Taxis are dangerous," the Georgetown point guard said. "You don't know who's driving. I like driving my own car, or I like riding with my mom or my dad or aunt, somebody I know. If I don't know you, I'm not going to get in the car with you."

His dream scenario for the future?
"I want cows," Wallace said with a smile. "I want cows and land one day."

Finally, his idea of a wild night?
"It's a lot of things I don't do that the other guys tend to do a lot, as far as going to the mall and so forth on the subway," Wallace said. "I usually stay in the room and wait for them to come back because I'm not too comfortable with that stuff. It's not me."


Perhaps Georgetown coach John Thompson III summed Wallace up the best:
"You win with people like Jon Wallace," coach John Thompson III said. "You look at him, he's not the fastest person in the world, he's not the strongest person, never will be. But he has character, he has guts, and he's a good man. He's willed his way through so many situations and is someone who has gotten the most of his God-given ability.


All in all, Wallace seems like a good, normal college student. He's not a primadonna, there's no pretension about him, and he really seems to know who he is deep down inside. In this time where college athletes show up on campus expecting to be waited on hand and foot, Wallace, the former walk-on is a breath of fresh air. He's clearly comfortable with himself, and doesn't pretend to be anything else. He set goals, and he accomplished them. He's been student body president, a national merit finalist, and a Red Cross volunteer. Finally we've got a person, and a team worth rooting for.

Go Hoyas!

27 March 2007

Maybe Lowe Jr. Should Join The Bengals



Things must be tough in the Lowe family right now. First a few weeks ago Sidney Lowe Sr. made the silly mistake to wear a giant red blazer during the ACC Tournament. Now, perhaps in retaliation for such an embarrassment, his son, Sidney Jr. now faces 22 different criminal charges. Or maybe he thought the Bengals were having an open tryout. Such charges range from armed robbery to drug possession. Ouch.

21 year old Lowe Jr., a student at NC A&T (thanks Facebook for the above photo!) was charged with nine counts, which included a felony of aiding and abetting attempted armed robbery in connection the shooting of a man in a campus dorm Saturday. According to The Carolinian, the student, Stephen Cobb "was in his dorm room when he was shot once in the lower back with a .25 automatic pistol." Thirteen additional charges from an incident earlier in the month only add insult to injury (or in this case, simply adding more jail time).

Let's take a look at the laundry list of crimes:
-Six counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon
-Six counts of second-degree kidnapping
-One count of assault inflicting serious bodily injury
-Two counts of possession of a weapon on educational property
-Possession with intent to sell and deliver marijuana
-Maintaining a dwelling for the keeping and selling of a controlled substance
-Possession of between a half an ounce and 1.5 ounces of marijuana
-Three counts of stolen goods or property.


Lastly, I'm not sure which crime this falls under, but Sidney Jr. also went into a house and smashed a bottle over someone's head.

To his credit, Lowe "maintains his innocence of all charges." There ya go!

N.C. State really finished off the season strong, making an improbable run through the ACC Tournament. Now I'm not really sure how Coach Lowe will come into a recruit's house and convince them he'll take care of them when his own son is running ragged around town. If Lowe Jr. is innocent of even half of these charges, he'll be a lucky guy.

Hey - does he play football? Maybe the Bengals could use him!

HAK makes his triumphant return!

Alright, ya ingrates, I know you've missed me. Well, here I am! It's been a little while since I've posted to Lion in Oil, this still youthful and nubile blog, only recently having emerged from its electronic chrysalis. During my convalescence away from LIO, I learned many things. Among them are these: 1) Don't trust the Lenox Mall food court (Atlanta residents will understand); 2) Ben Broussard is the next Conor Oberst; 3) Nothing that I experience in an entire calendar year compares with the thrill of a fantasy baseball draft. Nothing.

To get back in the swing of things, let's try to do a little beisbol roundup, Hak-style. What does that mean? It means I'll be focusing on oddities, weirdos, and nutcases -- the stuff I thrive on.

  • Julio Franco is batting .324 this spring. Unbelievable.
  • Dice-K is crazy. Yes, crazy. A couple days ago, he pitched five no-hit innings and then refused to talk to reporters afterwards. Instead, he released a statement:
    "This time of year I think the content of my pitching is more important than the result on paper. I am not happy with the content of my pitching today," it said. "I threw a lot of walks and wasted balls. It was tough on my [fielders] to defend and to get into a good rhythm on offense. It's something I will want to pay attention to in the regular season."
    I'm sure that Boston fans will rave about this guy's "competitive drive" or his "mental toughness." I simply think it's ridiculous, bordering on maniacal, that that kind of a start can seemingly affect someone so deeply. In any case, I'm not going to extrapolate any further and make claims about what this reflects about Dice-K's character. I still think he's a great pitcher who will do very well this year. Just relax, Dice-K -- it's OK if your fielders have to.. actually do some fielding. I'm sure they're relieved to do that after watching Josh Beckett give up 36 gopher balls last year.
  • As you may know, many of the LIO staff are People of the Claw (this is the new MoT; let's make it catch on). And of course, the PotC are always proud when we discover one of our own in sports. Recently, I have been trying to figure out who the best active Jewish baseball player is. Because of Shawn Green's spectacular decline, I think it's down to Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler. After this season, I think it will be impossible to say anyone but Kinsler. Many are predicting a breakout year for him, health not withstanding, and I think he'll be considered a top 10 2B by the end of the year.
  • Sometimes, late at night, I lie in bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering if we're alone in the universe, and also thinking, "Where the hell is Ugueth Urbina?!" Well, apparently, he's still in jail, presumably awaiting trial. (Scroll down to the end of this mailbag for the update.) More information on this matter would be appreciated. I am considering offering an award for any credible information.
  • I love Alex Gordon. Fin.
  • There's a very good story in the NYT Magazine about Adam Greenberg. I hope he makes it back to the majors.
  • I think I am the only person in the world who has an autographed, life-sized Rex Hudler poster (from his playing days). One day I will take a picture of this thing and post it. It's unreal. Huddy is amazing. My grandfather was his dentist. If anyone else owns a life-sized Rex Hudler poster, let me know. If yours too is autographed, then I applaud you.. and suggest we start a support group together.

    HAK will return.

26 March 2007

Are you ready for some football?

It may be only March, and the baseball season hasn’t even started yet, but, just as we almost forgot, the NFL dangled a little carrot over our heads today by announcing the first batch of games for the 2007 season:

Sept. 6 – Thu. – Saints at Colts – NBC – 8:30 p.m. (ET)

Sept. 9 – Sun. – Bears at Chargers – FOX – 4:15 p.m.
Sept. 9 – Sun. – Giants at Cowboys – NBC – 8:15 p.m.

Sept. 10 – Mon. – Ravens at Bengals – ESPN – 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 – Mon. – Cardinals at 49ers – ESPN – 10:15 p.m.

With the announcement of some of these games, I almost wish they were five days away and not five months. Every single one of these games has some level of intrigue to it. It will be interesting to see how the Saints go into this season as a favorite to win the tough NFC South, while the Peyton Manning goes into this season having already won the big one. Ron Rivera gets to face the team that fired him as the top team from each conference during the regular season square off in San Diego. And the three remaining games all comprise of teams that will be fighting against each other with legitimate chances at division titles. Yes, I actually would not be surprised if either Arizona or San Francisco walk away with the NFC West.

But what’s most amazing about this is how year-round football has become in America. There has never been more off season football (both college and pro) coverage than there has been this winter, I think due to the demise of Hockey and the cultural marginalization of the NBA.

In some ways, September cannot come soon enough.

John Kerry: Man of the Fan


Senator John Kerry has had quite the distinguished career as a politician. He blew the 2004 Presidential elections. He almost blew the 2006 midterm elections. But this politician is also a sports fan. Sure, he once said the Packers played at Lambert Field, and spawned perhaps the best 527 committee of all time - Football Fans For Truth. A Bostonian, he also once referred to great Red Sox slugger "Manny Ortiz." But his heart is in the right place.

Tomorrow Senator Kerry will lead a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing to address the much discussed MLB-DirecTV deal. While Kerry concedes that the deal may be legal, the points to the obvious fact that it's bad for fans.

"When you've got 75 million people who currently have the option of doing something and you reduce it to 15 million, you've got to ask are the terms of this deal fair and does it work for the fan and for the sport itself?" he said during a conference call Monday.


Kerry obviously has a lot of time on his hands these days, but he must be applauded for sticking up for the common fan, and standing up to the powers of big business (and big leagues). There will be fans out there suffering this season away from their beloved baseball teams (not me! I'm back in LA), and they deserve to be able to watch them. Sure you say, one could easily switch to Directv. But imagine you're living in an apartment building and can't put up the dish. Then what? You're stuck watching the crappy team in your local market (see: Milwaukee Brewers).

The MLB/DirecTV deal may be good business in terms of revenue for MLB and its teams, but its also bad business in that the deal stands to alienate large numbers of fans. As usual, it's the fan, the average Joe, who gets the raw deal (example: it's now $15 to park at a Dodger game - up from $10 last season). Kerry gets it:
"Fans are pretty discerning," Kerry said. "I think they'll have a terrific ability to say, 'Well, that's crock or this isn't,' and kind of get a read on it."


We commend Kerry for his pro-fan stance. Commendation must also be given for using "crock" in a political statement.

Lion In Oil salutes you, Senator John Kerry. You are a man of the sports people!

25 March 2007

Oh Say Can They Sing!



There are lots of ways athletes can spend their off-seasons. They can work on their game, travel, impregnate women, and many other things. They can also take their time off to...sing! Athletes and music have gone together since time began. The Super Bowl Shuffle, Carl Lewis' National Anthem, and the 7th Floor Crew are just a few. Some athletes, however, are for real.

Meet Ben Broussard, First Baseman for the Seattle Mariners. Ben batted .289 with 21 HR for the Cleveland Indians last season. But Ben is more than an athlete. He's also a musician. Thanks to his website, we can learn all about it:

Ben demonstrates his passion for music with the release of his musical debut. With everyday life and relationships as his inspiration, Ben wrote the lyrics in hotel rooms while traveling across the country playing professional baseball. The album, produced by Scott Schorr of Lazy Bones Recordings, features Ben's talent for playing the guitar, singing, and the unusual beat box on "Deep". We invite you to explore the website, purchase the album, and check back often for updates.


If you're so inclined, check out the audio snippet. If you really like it - buy it.

But the music gets even better! On the same site as Ben's music comes a far superior music compilation: Oh Say Can You Sing! This CD/DVD combo is brought to us by Good Sports Recordings, whose goal is to unite athletes whose passion for music is as great as their athletic talent.
This two disc package (CD & DVD) features 10 current Major League Players plus Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith, singing their own versions of popular songs. (Jimmy Rollins & Coco Crisp rap on their original hip-hop tracks). This is an awesome project - no cheesy or campy elements allowed! The DVD contains player recording session footage, exclusive interviews and a tour of Ozzie's home memorabilia room.

* Ben Broussard, Cleveland Indians, With or Without You, U2
* Sean Casey, Cincinnati Reds, How Do You Like Me Now?, Toby Keith
* Jeff Conine, Florida Marlins, Plush, Stone Temple Pilots
* Coco Crisp, Cleveland Indians, Original song
* Matt Ginter, NY Mets, Dooley, The Dillards
* Aubrey Huff, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Letters From Home, John Michael Montgomery
* Scott Linebrink, SD Padres, Wave on Wave, Pat Green
* Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies, Original Song
* Omar Vizquel, SF Giants, Broadway, Goo Goo Dolls
* Kelly Wunsch, LA Dodgers, Hurts So Good, John Mellencamp
* Ozzie Smith, Hall of Fame, Cupid, Sam Cooke


Listen in!

This incredible CD/DVD combo would be great just to listen to all of our favorite athletes belt out their favorites. Ozzie Smith can't be that bad - his son Nikko wa a finalist on American Idol a few years back. But the chance to hear Jimmy Rollins and Coco Crisp rap?! ORIGINAL RAPS?! This is too much to resist!

It's one thing to have great athletic talent. Combine that with incredible vocal and musical ability? That's too much to overcome. I'm out.

(HT: HAK)

Upset with all of the 1 vs 2 matchups this weekend?

Well, that means you were watching the wrong tournament! While this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament has been practically devoid of upsets, the NCAA Hockey tournament has been Cinderella City, baby! Of the four four-team regionals this weekend (it’s a 16-team field), not one No. 1 seed made it to the Frozen Four in St. Louis. This is after the first four years of the current format where just one No. 1 seed lost in the first round. Look at what happened this year …

East No. 1 Clarkson lost in overtime in the first round to UMass 1-0.

Midwest No. 1 Notre Dame, after needing double overtime to get out of the first round, lost in the regional final to Michigan State, 2-1.

Northeast No. 1 New Hampshire lost in the first round to Miami-Ohio 2-1.

West No. 1 Minnesota (who has hockey cheerleaders … no joke) had to score three goals in the third period to survive against Air Force, who was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance, only to lose to North Dakota in the regional final.

Boston College stands as the only No. 2 seed to advance. While college hockey is a very regional sport, it’s actually pretty popular at certain schools and the NCAA Hockey tournament is one of four NCAA Championships that make money (and no, the women’s hoops tourney IS NOT one of those four). I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see it become a more major college sport in the future despite the NHL’s demise because it’s very fan friendly.

Further updates will not be coming later.

23 March 2007

Tony Dungy Wants You To Volunteer...Unless You're Gay

It looks like Colts Coach Tony Dungy is spreading his volunteering all over town. First he appeared at a function for an anti gay-marriage group, and now last night I saw his PSA on CBS for the Big Brothers program.

But given Tony's feelings, shouldn't he have put some caveats on his request?

I'd like you to become a big brother - unless you're gay! Same goes for big sisters!


Tony says in the PSA that he loves helping people. I guess he really only wants to help some people. Straight people. Perhaps he looks so uncomfortable in the video knowing he's mixing his messages all around.

22 March 2007

Hold the Mayo Please


There was a great article in the NYT yesterday about high school phenom OJ May. Mayo Shows Vision On and Off the Court it was titled, and went about showing the bizarre nature of the star's recruitment. It starts off as if it were the beginning of a Hollywood slasher pic:

A stranger walked into the University of Southern California basketball office one day last summer and asked to speak to the head coach. The stranger did not make an appointment. He did not call ahead. Tim Floyd, the U.S.C. head coach, cannot explain why he agreed to see him.

“O. J. wanted me to come here today,” the man told Floyd. “He wanted me to figure out who you are.”

WHAT?

“Let me call him,” Floyd said.

The man shook his head again. “O. J. doesn’t give out his cell,” he said. “He’ll call you.”


But this is no regular slasher tale. That tale belongs to LA's other OJ. Now a new OJ seems poised to take on Hollywood.

USC Basketball has always been the bridesmaid to its cross-town rival UCLA. 11 national championships for UCLA to USC's zero. USC and Mayo both have a lot to gain from his one year on campus. USC Basketball gets the instant credibility and spotlight that it never would have without it. Mayo, on the other hand hopes to capitalize on the same media frenzy that catipulted Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush to stardom.

“Then why aren’t you at U.C.L.A.?” Tim Floyd asked. It's simple. UCLA is a team, and thrives on defense and cohesion. Even its stars like Arron Aflalo and Jordan Farmar understood the team aspect. They gave up the limelight for teamwork and success, and still receieved the recognition they deserved. Mayo isn't that kind of player. He wants the spotlight. He wants top billing. He wants to be the man.

With all this in mind, is USC better off without Mayo? For all the positives Mayo brings with him, there are far too many negatives that outweigh his one year presence. Look at the shady aspects that surrounded Reggie Bush in his last year, as well as what still clouds the university today. Now imagine that with a guy who has been around such situations since seventh grade. Let's take a look at just a few, in no particular order:

-Mayo busted for suspicion of pot (later cleared)
-Mayo bumps ref, gets ejected
-Mayo gets tosses ball into stands after dunk, gets ejected from final HS game
-In the past six years, Mayo has moved from West Virginia to Kentucky to Ohio and back to West Virginia
-He has been suspended at least three times for fights and other violations

Need I say more?

With all the baggage and complications that Mayo brings with him, the Trojans are better off without him. College Hoops is a team game. The biggest case in point stared USC right in the face last weekend - their defeat of Texas. Kevin Durant has been slobbered all over by media types nationwide, but as good as he is (REALLY good!), it was the team (USC) that beat the individual (Durant). By all indications Mayo is not one of those team players.

Mayo will provide nothing but a massive, temporary distraction for the Trojans. Reporters, documentary camera crews, and wanna-be agents hovering around the campus will do nothing to help advance the team. USC should build on their success this year and attract the kind of talent that will win ball-games and have the team first mentality. Mayo wants USC. Perhaps USC should just pass on the Mayo...

When Floyd put down the phone, he turned to his wife. “This ain’t happening,” he said. “But we’ve got to act like it is.”


Maybe USC should act like it shouldn't.

21 March 2007

Our Grandfather's Pastime?




After my interview last week with Jason Whitlock, the most startling and contentious issue my friends and I pored over were his comments regarding Major League Baseball's activities, or lack thereof, in major urban American areas. In the idiosyncratic style which has made him a household name, (blunt, candid, no bullshittin), Whitlock discussed his belief that M.L.B. had made a conscientious decision to devote a large percentage of its developmental resources outside of the United States. According to Whitlock, M.L.B. and team owners were "uncomfortable" with the hip-hop images being projected from America's inner cities and decided to look elsewhere (mainly Latin America) in searching for the next batch of baseball superstars.

Ironically, after visiting ESPN's web site the next afternoon for my daily pilgrimage to the World-Wide leader, I noticed an article entitled, "Sabathia Pitches for more African-Americans in game." It seemed almost too good to be true. A day after our Whitlock interview was published, Sabathia was discussing the lack of African-Americans in baseball, describing it as a "crisis." According to Sabathia:

"I go back home to Vallejo," Sabathia said of his offseason time in California, "and the kids say, 'What's baseball?' It's not just an issue for my hometown, it's an issue for the whole country. I think Major League Baseball should do something about it. I don't know exactly what they could be doing, but I know it's not enough."

"What's baseball?" Are you kidding me? Have things gotten that bad that the game I grew up on in what was once the epicenter of the game, Brooklyn, N.Y., was going to become obsolete?

I read on and learned that "According to a 2005 report by the University of Central Florida Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, only 8.5 percent of major leaguers were African American -- the lowest percentage since the report was initiated in the mid-1980s. By contrast, whites comprised 59.5 percent of the majors' player pool, Latinos 28.7 percent and Asians 2.5.." At the collegiate level, in 2003, the NCAA revealed that only 6 percent of the nearly 9,800 Division I baseball players were black, compared to 25 percent in all sports combined.

The article pointed to a number of factors which could have caused this precipitous decline. The cost of gloves, bats, uniforms and balls. The relative ease of finding a ball and a hoop for basketball. The guaranteed big-contracts for games like football and basketball.

But while Sabathias's and Whitlock's comments were aimed at baseball in the African-American community, a similar case could be made for the United States as a whole. While attendance records across Major League parks continue to soar (surpassing the 75 million mark last season for the first time in history), fewer and fewer kids continue to participate in our national pastime.

According to Dr. Steve Carney, a professor of sport management at Drexel University in Philadelphia, there are an estimated 41 million American kids playing competitive youth sports. The number of children involved in youth sports has risen significantly over the last 10 to 20 years. Sports such as soccer have seen an increase, from about 15 million in 1987 to more than 17.5 million in 2002. In Pop Warner Football, participation has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, from about 130,000 players to 260,000 players, according to the organization.

However, the only sport to experience a decline was baseball. According to Little League Baseball records, there has been a 1 percent decrease in enrollment every year since its peak in 1996. The organization has attributed the decline to the emergence of other sports in America.

When I go home and visit the park where I basically lived every summer playing baseball, I still see kids playing organized ball. But I never see the pickup games that were such an integral part of my life. I rarely even see people playing catch.

While the plight of the African-American ballplayer has been well documented these past few weeks, little has been made of the decline of baseball in the average American's life. And while we continue to live, learn and adapt in an increasingly globalized world, I fear that one of our country's brightest and most beloved trademarks is becoming ever more obsolete.


19 March 2007

It's PETA's Turn For A Spanking



In the far, far, Pacific Northwest the 2007 Iditarod just concluded. Likable champ Lance Mackey sealed unprecedented back-to-back wins of the 1,100-mile Iditarod and 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race last week. But this celebration of the unity of man and dog did not last long.

Racer Ramy Brooks was officially disqualified from the race after he admitted to spanking each of his 10 dogs after two refused to get up and continue running on an ice field. Talk about win as a team, lose as a team, uh...die as a team? One of Brooks' dogs died hours after the spanking. Iditarod race marshal Mark Nordman said that so far, the necropsy (yes, a real word!) on Kate, a 3-year-old female, indicates that the spanking was unrelated to her death.

Here's some video of Brooks and his crew pre-spanking


And because this incident involved animals, in jumped PETA. (We've has dealt with PETA during the great K-State Chicken Toss, and we'll do it once more.) With PETA often comes ridiculousness:

On Monday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, based in Norfolk, Va., asked Alaska State Troopers to conduct a criminal investigation.
"It's pretty appalling and I would hope the citizens of the state of Alaska would demand that an investigation occur," said Lisa Wathne, a Seattle-based spokeswoman for PETA. "If there was a violation of the law, Ramy Brooks should be charged."


Go on, Lisa
"I'm sure they're exhausted and sick of the whole thing," said Lisa Wathne, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"When is enough going to be enough with this event? There is no way to do this humanely. No one who has any feelings for dogs should condone this event, or could possibly think it's acceptable."


Lisa Wathne, apparently, knows what's on the mind of dogs. Hmm.

Now, I don't think anyone here at LIO is for animal punishment, animal brutality, animal husbandry (only on select occasions). But PETA has to stop sticking their noses into small, minute issues (see: three chickens being tossed onto the court). Most people don't follow the iditarod, let alone know it goes on. Sure, PETA is bringing attention to the plight (maybe) of the dogs, but they're also bringing more Iditarod fans into the fold. Simply said, PETA deserves a spanking of their own.

The Alaska State Troopers helped put this whole incident into perspective:
"We did not feel this incident warranted investigation. We're not condoning it, we're not saying it was good, bad or indifferent. It doesn't warrant an investigation. By our statutes, it doesn't apply," said Megan Peters, spokeswoman for the troopers.


PETA does great work on behalf of animals everywhere. But they often step the line, and mis-use their resources. Lisa Wathne's time would be better spent not crusading on behalf of dog racing, and instead focusing on real animal cruelty - inhumane animal testing, inhumane animal slaughter, killing a dog with their bare hands, etc. These are the bigger issues that face a large number of animals, not just a few. These are the issues that deserve PETA's attention. PETA needs to stick the these larger issues, not ones that will simply bring attention to the organization (see: demanding that footballs be made of synthetic leather). Just like in ABC's Men In Trees, let the Alaskans have their fun!

An open letter to Tommy Amaker

Dear Tommy,

So, this is it, huh? After six years, our relationship is over. You’ve gotten in your Cadillac and driven off with Dr. Pinder-Amaker into the sunset.

But, hey, no hard feelings. We’ll still have the memories. Like the time we went together to New York to watch your team cut down the nets. It may have been the NIT, but each net is made out of the same material, right? Or the time your boys inexplicably took the halftime lead against a Top-5 Illinois team, or a Top-5 Ohio State team, only to fade into oblivion like you always do.

It saddens me to think that I’m never going to see you in your polo shirt and suit jacket holding up your fist as part of your one-play “motion” offense. Or that I will never hear you talk about how you judge your team not on wins or stats, but on “quality possessions,” even after going eight minutes without a field goal in the second half. My only hope is that you land back on the Duke staff, and, five years from now when our relationship is long forgotten, to have Coach K think it’s a good idea to have you replace him.

What am I going to do without you? What am I going to do this time of year in the future when I’m at work and Michigan’s playing in the NCAA Tournament? Calling in sick is really going to hurt my PTO balance.

Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Just remember, Jay Bilas still loves you. Take care.

Love,
Bob

16 March 2007

An Ode to the Unsung Heroes of March

Over the next few weeks, you'll hear about enough "one shining moments" to make Gus Johnson ejaculate. But what you won't hear about is the Male Cheerleaders that put all that time and effort only to block out the cheerleaders we really want to see. But Louisville Cheerleader Simon Smart - whose cheering excellence had to be the difference in the Cardinals 78-58 smacking of Stanford - had his humble beginnings as the only male cheerleader on his high school squad recently brought to light thanks to his friends and YouTube.

So, Male Cheerleaders, this one's for you!

15 March 2007

Ronnie Mexico Goes to the Napa Valley

"Yo, Marcus, come smell this and tell me if it's a Chardonnay. You don't know? Okay, well, it tastes like jockstrap juice, so I'm gonna audible out, cause I can do that now. Do me a favor, broseph, and flag down that fine ass waitress and tell her Mikey wants some Merlot. No, not Murlow. Merlot. As in, Ronnie Lott. Shit hits you hard, just like him."


14 March 2007

Let The Madness Begin






Let's jump into the Big Dance with some photos of Lion In Oil's man of the moment.

13 March 2007

An Interview with Jason Whitlock


Last week, Jason Whitlock agreed to participate in a phone interview with Lion in Oil. During our conversation, Whitlock elaborated upon what he sees as the new KKK, dissected Dave Zirin's, "An Open Letter to Jason Whitlock," and discussed his belief that Major League Baseball has made a conscious and concerted effort to recruit international players rather than devote resources to inner-city communities. Below is a copy of the transcript.

Q: What was the impetus that made you call for another civil rights movement and label a certain segment of the African-American community “the black KKK?”

“I think that to some degree and extent people are misguided and think that there is a lack of dissent in the black community. Meaning, basically, that African-Americans are all good with what is going on in the community. But I hear black people having these conversations all the time. I’m aware that we are not all good with it. Yet, we rarely offer any type of dissent. If we ignore it, it’s only going to get worse. We are going down a slippery negative slope. The hip-hop, prison values.... No one is coming out and saying this isn’t healthy for young people and that these aren’t appropriate values. "

Q: Some say that your comparison of what you define as the “Black KKK” to the KKK that most Americans are familiar with is foolish, absurd and even dangerous. How do you respond to such criticism?

“Well, why don’t we count the bodies? Body by body- The tears are the same and the pain is the same. The violence is just so senseless. The fear that the gang-bangers prey on in the community is the same type of fear generated by the KKK. I understand that this is a strong analogy and I knew some people would be offended. But I’m trying to spark a new consciousness. These gang-bangers are alleging to be pro-black when they really are anti-black.”

Q: I’ve noticed in the last two columns you’ve written involving the African-American community you are quite blunt in describing various problems within it. However, you skirt the issue of offering solutions. What are some solutions that might have a tangible and ameliorating affect?

“I think the most important thing is embracing education. We can’t let kids go to school and continue to be ridiculed for talking properly. Getting an education is not acting white. People are called ‘sell-outs’ for talking properly. Additionally, hip-hop culture has become an expression of prison values. 25% of guys in my generation in the black community are incarcerated because of our country’s punitive drug laws. We can’t keep continuing to build prisons and creating these punitive cages. We have to rehabilitate people. Some people even need to be ‘habilitated.’ Non-violent offenders need to be treated differently than violent-offenders.”

Q: Do you think African-American athletes are partly to blame for some of the ills we are now witnessing the African-American community struggle with?

“No, not at all. We can’t single out athletes. A lot of these kids are coming out of hip-hop culture and don’t know any better. But we are now seeing the major sports shop for talent outside of the African-American community. Major League Baseball has made a concerted effort to shop outside. They are in love with foreign athletes and I think it’s definitely an intentional decision on their part. I think there is some racism to it and also some rejection of the culture.

David Stern, who I think is a very, very fine commissioner, has been bending-over backwards to get guys to see the big-picture. But you have league-owners who are very uncomfortable with hip-hop culture. People will be entertained by whatever color athletes are, but this culture has made owners really uncomfortable. We have to learn to accept that people have a problem with this prison/hip-hop culture. Chris Rock, Bill Cosby talk about it. Black people talk about it all the time, believe me. We have to sit down and talk about this in a serious manner. It’s limiting us and our opportunities.”

Q: Are there any athletes out there today who are working to make the changes that you think are needed?

“I don’t think it’s possible for one person to be able to change everything. I definitely think there can be guys like Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali. But none of the guys are doing that. Yet, sometimes we forget that charismatic black leaders told Ali, Brown, Tommie Smith and John Carlos (1968 Olympic medal winners who famously raised their fists in a black power salute) what to do. These guys were led. No one is leading them today. It’s a failure of black leadership. But we can’t blame athletes. They are too immature.”

Q: Have you read Dave Zirin’s, “An Open Letter to Jason Whitlock.” If so, what are your feelings regarding the comments he made?

“I think Dave’s heart is in the right place. But Dave needs to let black people handle this. We need to have this series of arguments and debates. I say this nicely as possible, but Dave just needs to mind his own business. That doesn’t mean non-blacks can’t help. Obviously, some white people played a great role in the civil-rights movement. I don’t know if Dave just wants to draw attention to his blog or what, but he should just mind his business.”

Q: What is it going to take for African-Americans to have this “conversation” that you consistently bring up?

“I think we are already there. It’s been bubbling. There are prominent blacks out there discussing this. Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Juan Williams. They are out there. I knew when I gave the Big Lead interview that people were ready for this. I made the decision to go to AOL because of its association with pop culture. I knew I’d have the freedom to discuss this and spur debate. I knew it was just a matter of time before this conversation could happen. It is taking place right now. And I’m going to continue pushing the need for conversation. But now, I want to take it to another level. People need to really think about hip-hop culture. This stuff is straight out of the penitentiary and you cannot live that way out here in the real world.”

Q: While there are prominent African-American sports writers and journalists out there, African-Americans are still under-represented in the field. Two questions:
(1) How did you get your start out of Ball State? (2) What advice would you give a young African-American sports journalist fresh out of college who is hoping to embark on a journalism career?

“Well, I studied journalism in college and worked for the school newspaper. My first job was in Bloomington, Indiana for the Bloomington Herald Times. I made five dollars an hour. Then I moved to South Carolina and covered high school sports for two years. After that, I moved to Ann Arbor, where I covered the Fab Five. As for advice, I would start off by telling the kid to not be afraid to move to another city. Work at a small newspaper and hone your skills. Don’t be afraid to be different and definitely don’t go in with the expectation that the ride will be smooth and easy. You have to be committed.”

Q: On a lighter note, how many times have you seen Brian Collins’ Newslink at Nine Appearance?

“The dynamite guy? Only a few times, actually. But I’m always proud to see Ball State get attention. Any attention is good for Ball State.”

12 March 2007

Get Off Me

"I've been looking at non-conference SOS's so much that it burns when I pee. My angst over Creighton's seeding nearly ended my marriage. That's me, straight loungin' after another year. I don't know if you can tell, but I'm pretty wasted. I was Pokey Chatman and that bracket was my former player. You're welcome. I'll see you all in hell."

--Joe Lunardi--
Hat Tip: TMG

11 March 2007

This Just In: Joakim Noah Is A Douche



I didn't see any of the SEC Championship game, but I saw enough of the post-game coverage to give me a reason to root against Florida. I got this vibe during their tournament run last year, but this coming clip really solidified it for me. I'll let the video speak for itself.



Verne Lundquist can hardly keep a straight face...in fact, he can't. It made me realize just how much he looks like the guy from Office Space - the guy who gets hit by a car, and loves it. I tried to find a clip of his post-game interview, which made Noah look even worse. He must not have attended many English or communications classes in Gainesville, as he comes off looking like a moron. If this video had been from last year's run, maybe it would have been an acceptable showcase of glee. But Noah's been around the block before, and should show a little more professionalism and tact. He should know better.

This video will be why I'll be rooting against Florida for the next few weeks.

07 March 2007

David Wells' 'Tasty' Safari Feast


It looks like the San Diego Padres are really going to be the team to watch this season. Maybe not for their play, but for their cast of characters. First we learned last week about Greg Maddux's apparent love of peeing on rookies (where was this type of coverage last summer when he was on the Dodgers? The local media treated him as if he were a saint. Now he goes down south, and all bets are off?). But in terms of the amusing department, there is the always

reliable David Wells.

Wells is an overt party animal, but you may not know he's also an avid hunter (he owns a hunting ranch in Michigan with former MVP Kirk Gibson). More than anything, we know Wells likes to eat. During his off-season hunting expedition to Tanzania, his diet went on a totally different path:

"Ostrich was phenomenal. Warthog was outstanding. A little different taste, but it's really good," the San Diego Padres' southpaw said while recounting his trip. "Hardebeest, wildebeest, gazelle, all that stuff. Very, very tasty. It's just the zebra you don't want to eat. We shot them for bait. For lions."

Even a dik-dik, a furry little antelope, ended up on Wells' dinner plate after he "double-lunged it" from 30 yards with his bow.

"That was probably one of the best eating things I had," he said. "It doesn't sound good. Cute little suckers, too."


Wells' trip wasn't all fun and games. Out in the wild, there are animals far scarier than Boomer.

"Yeah man, you don't know if you walk around a tree and there's a lion coming right at you," Wells said after throwing a bullpen session this week. "There's a lot of things that can go wrong over there. A lot of things."

"There's nothing like walking up a cliff and hearing a lion roaring at you and you don't know where it's at. And it scares the tar out of you and all of a sudden you see it and it's 40 yards from you behind a bush with two cubs. You don't shoot females, anyway. But in that type of situation, anything can happen, a lion protecting her young, and they'll attack you," Wells said.

"But to see the animals hands-on ... I saw cheetahs and all that kind of stuff. As long as you stay cool, calm and collected they're not going to attack you. Thank gosh. That thing would have pummeled us. It was a big elephant."


Boomer also had the chance to reflect and decide, and should the shoe be on the other foot, how he'd prefer to be dined on...
"I'd rather get eaten by a lion than get bitten by a snake," Wells said. "That's just an eerie thing because you're crawling in tall grass, so you're on all fours crawling, you don't know if one's right there."


The trip to Tanzania also provided an opportunity for Wells to get in shape. Not by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, running, or anything of that sort. What was his regimen?

"A lot of walking in 110-degree weather," he said. "So I came back fit. I survived 21 days in the bush."


Boomer's training regimen sounds a lot like the one I typically do. Too bad I'm not financially rewarded for doing so.

The Padres may not win the West, but they're sure a team to keep an eye on. Here's just one piece of advice for stud rookie, Kevin Kouzmanoff: stay alert, both in the shower, and everywhere else. Getting peed on is terrible, but gettin' hunted is even worse.

Osama loves Cross Country. Who knew!

Ever since 9/11, America has become privy to numerous terror alerts that are "supposed" to inform citizens of possible dangers. Well, these alerts have taken a latest turn for the weird.

The US Embassy in Kenya has warned the public of a possible terrorist attack on the World Cross Country Championships taking place in the east African country later this month. A statement released yesterday asked American citizens traveling to the event (apparently this is a real hot ticket, kind of like the Super Bowl or NBA All-Star Game) against frequently popular places in the host city of Mombasa. There were almost no further details on a possible attack.

An alert like this brings up numerous questions. First of all, why would terrorists attempt to disrupt a cross country event? I could think of numerous events that would cause a greater world panic – including, but not limited to, any MLB, NFL, NBA, English Premier League, or European Champions League game. Heck, if I were Al-Qaeda, I would attack the Little League World Series before attacking any cross country meet.

Second, what is the American government accomplishing by sending out these alerts? There were attacks in 1998 on US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, but this event is incredibly non-Western world, as many African countries will likely clean up the medals. And there will be absolutely no American media coverage of the event. Alerts like this really just add to the notion that the government sends out these alerts to attempt to convince people that the war in Iraq (and other such terror initiatives) are justifiable instead of actually providing Americans a service. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Third, why would anyone attend a Cross Country event in the first place? Have they ever been to a cross country event? I have, and I can tell you, it sucks ass. You cannot see anything because the runners are, obviously, spread out throughout the course so you cannot see who is winning even if you wanted to. What's even worse than attending a cross country is covering one of these things as a journalist. You'll never get less action and more bland quotes (ask them about anything, and they'll just be like "well, we just have to keep training, blah blah blah") from any other athletes. Cross Country is a recreational sport, like croquet or bocce ball, not a spectator sport.

Let's just say Al-Qaeda and America would be better off spending its resources elsewhere.

06 March 2007

It Has Arrived


March Madness is here, loyal readers. This guy knows what I'm talking about.

Can You Spare Some Change?



On Sunday it was announced that Bill Davidson, owner of the Detroit Pistons and Tampa Bay Lightning, and his wife donated $75 million to support a new inpatient tower at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. In case you're wondering, that comes to 317,025,807.52 Israeli Shekels. The donation was given to Hadassah, and named after his mother, the founder of the Detroit Hadassah chapter. In case you're wondering, part two: the $75 million is more than ten times the $7 million Davidson paid for the Pistons in 1974. Davidson, 84, estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $3.5 billion, and his wife are making the gift through Davidson's Guardian Industries Corp. of Auburn Hills, one of the world's largest manufacturers of glass (Glass? Who knew! Get me out of here!). The Davidson's gift is beyond generous, and will truly go a long way towards helping the people in Jersusalem.

Davidson's gift made me wonder - how do others in the sports world stack up in terms of their charitable donations? "The many charitable foundations set up by athletes, teams and sports owners can quickly become tangled in red tape and fiscal problems. Funding sources can dry up quickly. Administrative costs may rise. A player can be traded far away from the city of his foundation's headquarters. The very purpose of the organization can lose focus. And if these foundations have been established strictly as tax shelters, without much personal commitment, they can backfire and create image problems." Aside from the obvious philanthropical purposes of establishing a foundation, doing so has two distinct advantages for an athlete: huge tax deductions, and positive light in the realm of public relations.

Some athletes have terrific foundations, which are well respected in the non-profit community. Andre Agassi, Tiger Woods, and Lance Armstrong are three such athletes whose foundations have earned four stars (out of four) from Charity Navigator, a watchdog group. But not everyone has such a steller history. Let's take a look at just a few:


Michael Jordan

Jordan established the Michael Jordan Foundation in 1989, however it was shuttered seven years later, and Jordan focused on other charitable causes.

"Jordan got egg on his face for misadministrating his foundation, and he's not small potatoes," says Greg Johnson, executive director of the Sports Philanthropy Project, which helps athletes determine whether they should start such an organization. "These things are all over the place in terms of quality. Players should think long and hard before diving in, just because a mega-agency says you need a foundation.


Derek Jeter
Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation, on the other hand, is a slick and efficient charitable machine.
Turn 2 handed out more than $1 million in 2005 to a focused target group of after-school and recreational baseball programs. It is a family affair supervised in part by Jeter's parents, who receive no money and worked with Johnson's Sports Philanthropy Project. Among those donating to the foundation in 2005 were Jeter himself, who gave $253,738; Nike, which contributed $107,000; Steiner Sports Memorabilia of New Rochelle, which donated $250,000; and Jason Giambi, who kicked in $30,000. So legit is this operation that the foundation's website is hosted by mlb.com.


Alex Rodriguez
ARod's "The ARod Foundation" is small, with assets of only $28,997 in 2005. Rodriguez contributed $41,170 in aggregate contributions, from his salary that year of $26 million. Based on these numbers, the foundation would appear to be little more than a public relations creation. While the ARod Foundation seems to perform like its namesake's playoff history, it should be noted that ARod himself is no slouch. In 2003 he donated $3.9 million to his alma mater, the University of Miami.

Briefly:
Bernie Williams
Bernie's Foundation never really got off the ground, and in 2005 listed assets of just $101. Sounds like the decline in his batting average that year...

Roger Clemens
The Roger Clemens Foundation was started in 1992. The organization was founded in "support of educational and athletic organizations for children." But in 2004, by far its largest grant of $95,108 went to an "underprivileged father and child who received a kidney transplant with state aid."

All in all, this is just a sample of athletes and their charitable activities. Much more time and writing could be devoted to the subject. However, it's clear that like everyone else, athletes run the gammut in terms of just how much they're giving. And remember, they're just like us - they have other financial considerations going on...they could have seven kids out of wedlock to support...

05 March 2007

NL EAST CONTINUED: AMAZIN' ONCE MORE?



Ignore all of the steroids talk and the ridiculous free agent market, and one of the predominant stories of this offseason is the starting rotation (or lack thereof) of the reining NL East champions, the New York Mets.

It was a surprisingly quiet offseason for the Mets, after the monster one the year before. For a team with two glaring needs (starting pitching and second base), and a ton of money (let’s not forget that they have a license to print cash now that Sportsnet New York is off and running), you can argue that they were less active in the free agent market than the Royals and Brewers. When was the last time you said that about the Mets?

The Mets are operating under a similar theory to the Braves on a number of levels. They are hoping that their offense, which should be stacked again, and a strong and deep bullpen will guide them through the season. The big difference is that Mets do not have the rotation the Braves do.

So is the Mets lack of action a case of extreme hubris or unconventional brilliance on the part of their GM Omar Minaya?

To tell you the truth, I am undecided at this point. What I can say is that signing Barry Zito before the season would make the team stronger, but it has become clear that the Mets are going to be making a MAJOR run at either Carlos Zambrano or Johan Santana in the near future. That will make the team better (and younger) in the long run, and are sacrificing some success next year to do so.

Still, New York’s rotation this season will not be as bad as people are making it out to be for a number of reasons:

  • They have one of the best pitching coaches in the league in Rick Peterson. He’s a little off the wall, but he gets through to his pitchers like none other. If you have any doubt, read this conversation between Rick and Met starter Oliver Perez:

Peterson: If someone says to you, ‘I'm lost,’ what would be the first thing that you would respond? Where do you want to go? It's a logical question. Can you show me your map?

Perez: I don't have one.

Peterson: No wonder you're lost.

  • Although the four spots that seem to be locked in for the Mets aren’t the best four pitchers at this point in their careers (Tom Glavine, Orlando Hernandez, John Maine and Oliver Perez), they have a solid group of guys behind them who could step up and be successful if one or more should fail.
  • I do like what the Mets have done in terms of building quantity over quality in terms of their rotation. Instead of spending a ridiculous amount of money on ONE mid-level pitcher (i.e. Gil Meche, Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, etc.) as was the pattern this offseason, they spent roughly the same on a number of pitchers a level below (Aaron Sele, Chan Ho Park, Jorge Sosa). So, if one doesn’t work, they can move on to the next without having too many financial repercussions.
  • Let’s also not forget that the Mets have two young studs waiting in the wings to take this staff over: Mike Pelfrey and Phillip Humber. So instead of locking up spots in the rotation for three years with an overpriced, mediocre-at-best pitcher, they have open areas in the near future for their young guns.

Out of the bullpen this year, look for Duaner Sanchez to come back strong, and also for a nice performance from newcomer Ambiorix Burgos (who they received in a trade from Kansas City for starter Brian Bannister). Think about it for a second – Bannister, who was solid for the Mets as a starter before getting hurt last year, was traded for a relief pitcher, despite the fact that the Mets NEEDED starters. You would think that the upside for Burgos is tremendous, based on that and so far word out of Port St. Lucie is that Minaya was dead on.

Offensively, I’m not sure things are as locked up for the Mets as they hope they are. We know how good their big guys are (Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, Wright) and I don’t need to sing their praises here. Paul LoDuca probably has another nice season behind the plate, although I doubt his performance is as good as last year. Meanwhile, I have serious doubts about the Mets two aging corner outfielders in Moises Alou and Shawn Green, not to mention the fact that I think Jose Valentin is lucky if he lasts two weeks as the starter at second.

Again though, the Mets seem to have built up a nice backup plan. Endy Chavez returns after his amazing catch in left field in last year’s NLCS. Also, keep an eye out for outfielder/first baseman David Newhan, who is having a great spring training, and may see a lot of time assuming he makes the team. The Mets also signed Damian Easley, who I wouldn’t want starting, but may be a nice addition as a utility player.

Overall, I don’t think that the Mets win as many games as they did last season, but they will come close. The lack of proven starters in the 3-5 spots in their rotation will hurt the team, but I think they will be able to piece it together enough to allow the offense to guide the team to success, and win the East for the second straight season.

S.O.S’s projected finish: 92-70, 1st in the NL East

04 March 2007

About That Beckham Injury



The LA Galaxy and MLS must have collectively had their hearts skip a few beats today when David Beckham injured his right knee in a match versus Getafe. Club doctors were prepared only to describe it as "an injury to the lateral-internal ligament of the right knee". Madrid's coach, Fabio Capello, said: "It looks serious but I do not want to say how bad until the doctors do the scan." When asked if Beckham was ruled out of the upcoming Bayern match, Capello replied: "Definitely. It is a big blow for everyone." Language like that suggests it's more than just any "injury."

If Beckham's injury really is as serious as it appears to be, the biggest blow would be taken by the Galaxy and MLS. The MLS has banked a lot on the States-side arrival of Beckham - $250 million in salary, the instant recognition and respect for the league, and tons and tons of world-wide attention. Living in Los Angeles I've seen Beckham/Galaxy ads all over the place, trumpeting his arrival. But if Beckham arrives via crutches and leg brace, all the ballyhoo and celebration will have been spent on nothing. With athletics, every game and practice is a risk. All the hoopla and excitement around Beckham only increased the risk with every match he played as a lame-duck teammate with Real Madrid.

The situation at the moment is muddled, and more will be known in the coming days. Just how bad is the injury? Had Beckham already signed the contract? Can MLS get out of it should Beckham prove to be severely injured?

The Galaxy's signing of Beckham was the high point in MLS' history, and a great sign of US Soccer's intent to gain respect on the global level. Despite his growing age and dwindling skills, Beckham is more than just a player. He's a global super star. Guys love him (or hate him - depends on your outlook), and the women dig the looks. He and Posh are truly a power couple. His wattage and drawing power is more than any other player around, even those with vastly more talent (think Ronaldhino or Van Nistlerrooy). MLS took a major leap of faith when they signed Beckham, and the coming days and weeks will indicate just where they land.

02 March 2007

BASEBALL’S BACK, BABY! NL EAST PREVIEW: ATLANTA BRAVES


Over the next few days, I will be previewing each team in the NL East, starting today with the Atlanta Braves.

Have you ever started shaving a goatee or beard and realized that you left one side too long, so you try and even it out by trimming the longer side down, but before you know it, you’ve overcompensated by cutting that side too short and ruined your attempt at good looking facial hair? Welcome to the Atlanta Braves offseason.

The Braves bullpen blew 29 saves last season, claiming the dubious title of being the worst in the league in the category. So what does John Schuerholz do? Improve his team’s weakness. He traded for Rafael Soriano, traded for Mike Gonzalez, and held on to closer Bob Wickman, all with the goal of turning ballgames into six-inning affairs for the team’s starters.

While it seems like Schuerholz’s strategy will work in closing out games, the problem is, the Braves ignored their offense and fact, lost some offense while bolstering the bullpen, hence the shaving analogy.

The meat of the Braves order has the potential to shine if they play a full season, with Edgar Renteria, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Brian McCann batting two-through-five, most likely in that order. However, Chipper Jones is now wearing three pairs of socks and larger shoes to compensate for his injured foot, which surgeons can’t touch until he retires (he needs all his toes broken and reset for it to ever fully heal). You hope for 120 games out of Chipper at this point in his career, and even that is generous (he’s played 109 and 110 in each of the last two seasons). While Brian McCann is emerging as one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, I wouldn’t be shocked to see his numbers decline from last season (.333 avg, 24 HR, 93 RBI).

After those guys though, the Braves may be in a lot of trouble. While Francoeur has shown flashes of greatness, he still strikes out too much (132 times last year) and has too low an on-base percentage (.293). Combine that with an unproven first baseman in Scott Thorman, an unknown left fielder (either Matt Diaz – that’s pronounced DIE-az for those of you scoring at home – Ryan Langerhans or Craig Wilson) and then the pitcher all batting in a row at the bottom of the order, and the Braves could see a lot of situations where the bottom of their order allows opposing pitchers to get into a solid rhythm in the middle of ballgames.

And that doesn’t even include the fact that the Braves don’t have a leadoff hitter or second baseman. Before spring training, converted left fielder/shortstop Kelly Johnson was looking to fill the role, who many people inside the organization claimed could hit .300 with 30 HRs and 30 SBs (pretty stout prediction that I’ll believe when I see). However, word out of Braves’ camp is that they are unhappy with the progress of Johnson’s fielding, and are looking closer at Martin Prado. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Prado make an opening day start at second. If Prado does get the second base job, chances are the Braves will allow Johnson to split time in left with Craig Wilson and Matt Diaz, and release Ryan Langerhans, who is out of options.

It all makes you wonder why the Braves would trade away Adam LaRoche, who emerged as a solid first baseman last season, particularly in the second half of the year, when he had a 1.042 OPS. I have a feeling that the loss of his offense in the back end of the lineup will cost the Braves, particularly when Chipper misses his 10th-straight game in the middle of August and Francoeur approaches the 120 strikeout mark.

However, the Braves rotation could be back to solid form, with veteran John Smoltz leading the way again. Smoltz is becoming one of those freaks-of-nature, whose stuff never seems to decline despite his age. Tim Hudson may be back as well, after a disappointing two seasons with the Braves. The word is that his stuff is nasty in camp so far, and may be in line for a big year. Chuck James is young and fearless, and is primed for another nice year during his sophomore campaign. Kyle Davies will be coming off a groin injury last year, which limited him to just 14 starts, but he will be a nice addition to the back of the rotation.

The big question for the Braves will be Mike Hampton. Recently, Hampton not only admitted that his recovery (after missing all of 2006) wasn’t coming along as he had hoped it would, but for the first time during his career, he is nervous about his ability to throw the ball. Not a good sign for the Braves, who are paying Hampton $14.5 million in 2007. If he’s not ready to pitch by the start of the season, it could potentially cause some issues for the Braves.

I’m also still not convinced that the Braves have gotten over the loss of their great pitching coach, Leo Mazzone. New pitching coach Roger McDowell has a lot to prove this year, after last year’s un-Brave like pitching.

So, the question becomes did Atlanta trim the bullpen side of its beard evenly, or do they need to even out the offensive side? The Braves enter 2007 thinking that by cutting down on their blown saves, they can be right in the thick of things in the NL East. However, unless a few of their questions in their starting lineup are answered, their offense may struggle enough to cost them some games. Still, they should be better than last season, and at least be able to make a wild card run during the season.

S.O.S’s projected finish: 83-79, 3rd in the NL East

Disgruntled Michigan fan cheers for Ohio State

As a Michigan alum, former Michigan basketball beat writer, and diehard Michigan sports fan, a big portion of my Saturday is blocked off in order to watch the Wolverines take on man child Greg Oden and the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes. While the chances for victory are remote at best, a Michigan upset would give the Wolverines a huge boost upon their faint NCAA Tournament hopes.

I only have two words to say: Go Bucks!

While you may scratch your head at the sentence above, let me explain how I have become the college basketball equivalent of Randy Quaid’s character in Major League II (if you haven’t seen the movie, he attends every Cleveland Indians game only to violently cheer against The Tribe).

It all revolves around the head of the program himself, Tommy Amaker. While Amaker is a nice guy, and he has led the program out of scandal and probation, the reality is that he has to be one of the worst coaches in college basketball. The players pretty much admit that the Wolverines run absolutely no set offense, giving them no chance to get themselves out of jams that often end up causing seven-minute streaks without field goals.

That’s why for about the last three years I have pulled for the Wolverines to lose, and lose and lose. While my Michigan friends have wavered, giving in to the urge to pull for Blue, I have staunchly fought against it. The sooner Michigan gets a new basketball coach, the better off the program will be.

I admit that there are many other reasons why Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 (scandals and facilities to name a couple), but the inability of Amaker and his staff to develop players and coach in games is pretty much unacceptable.

The problem, however, is that the word on the street is that University President Mary Sue Coleman is a gigantic Amaker defender because she likes how the Amaker family represents the school. When Amaker first came to Michigan in 2001 from Seton Hall (where he also massively underachieved), he installed five virtues for the program. Let’s look at how the program is doing in each of them:

Passion – While the Wolverines have played hard during Amaker’s tenure, the passion is certainly not there within the fan base. Attendance this season is at its lowest in 25 years and down almost ten percent from last season. The mystique is all gone from a program that was culturally relevant in the early 1990s.

Patience – Amaker and his crew have likely done the best in this area, considering they have thrown out their vaunted “point-a-minute” offense in big conference games (The Wolverines put up 44 against Michigan State and 42 against Illinois). They are more than ready to showcase the four corners offense and take the 1957 Indiana State High School Basketball Championship.

But, to put Michigan’s NCAA Tournament drought in perspective, in 1998, Lindsey Lohan starred in the Parent Trap. She’s since gone from child star to budding actress to US Weekly’s dream to rehab in same time. How much longer do Michigan fans have to wait?

Be Honest – Year after year, Amaker has failed to be honest with himself in terms of putting his team in position to win. Amaker claims to call his offense a “motion” offense, whereas you would find better diagramed plays at Rucker Park. While criticizing play calling and strategy in any sport is normally for a fan is normally just a way to blow hot air, Amaker is lying to himself if he thinks the team has an offense AT ALL.

Have Fun – There are very few coaches that showcase less of their personality than Tommy Amaker. Ask a Michigan fan what they know about Tommy Amaker. Beyond possibility knowing about his wife, you would be hard pressed to find someone who knows what he does when he leaves the office. The reality is that he could spend 30 hours a week playing “World of Warcraft” and we would have no idea. He’s certainly not spending his free time coming up with an offense.

The best example of this is that during an interview with the Detroit News a couple years ago, a reporter asked him what he likes to do in this spare time. After attempting at all costs to change the subject, saying that fans don’t care, he spoke about how he likes to fix old cars and how that is much like trying to fix the Michigan basketball program. Basically, he could not come up with an answer unless it HAD to do with hoops. Maybe Amaker needs to spend more time having fun.

Be Michigan As part of an athletic program that is constantly ranks in the top-10 each year, is part of a university that has one of the best reputations for a public school worldwide and calls itself “the leaders and best,” the basketball arena might as well be demolished to build a lacrosse field. Then at least the school could amass all the kids it draws from New York to build a championship program.

If Mary Sue Coleman wants to create a school that makes other schools feel good about themselves, than Tommy Amaker is the right coach. Maybe next season they can give out teddy bears to opposing teams. But if she wants the school to really best represent the University, it’s time for the change direction now.

That is why I am cheering for the Buckeyes on Saturday. I have to cheer for the Michigan program to look bad any chance it gets with the prayer that the school will come to its senses and let Amaker go. If Michigan somehow made the tourney this season, it will likely be seen as a catalyst for hope (and thus Amaker employment) for the next 3-4 years.

I think I should stop before start reenacting the script Ohio in my living room.