The backstory to the U.S.-Ghana match in the World Cup tonight was that the Black Stars had eliminated the United States from the last two World Cups.
But if, as the Klingon saying goes, “revenge is a dish best served cold,” then the U.S. fell a little short.
In brutal conditions at Estadio das Dunas in the Brazilian state of Natal, where players were dropping like flies as a result of the high humidity, substitute John Brooks headed in a corner cross from fellow sub Graham Zusi at the 86th minute to give the U.S. men’s soccer team a dramatic 2-1 victory.
The win was tempered with the knowledge that the U.S. lost their best offensive player for the remainder of the tournament. Striker Jozy Altidore went down with a bad hamstring injury while making a long run down the left sideline. It is doubtful he will come back before the tournament ends.
Forward Clint Dempsey of Everton in the Premier League opened the scoring with a brilliant run through traffic with just 34 second gone in the game. FIFA says it was the 6th fastest goal scored in World Cup history.
But the anemic U.S. offense failed to generate anything for the next 85 minutes. Ghana was constantly on the U.S. side of the field, looking ever more dangerous as cross after cross went into the box. But the U.S. defense — much maligned prior to the World Cup — stood the gaff nicely. And goalkeeper Tim Howard — considered one of the best goalies in the world — made excellent decisions about when to come off his line and when to smother the ball, as well as making two spectacular saves in the second half.
He needed to be at the top of his game:
Ghana might have levelled on the stroke of half-time when Christian Atsu raced down the right flank before finding Jordan Ayew, but the Marseille forward’s side-footed finish was tame.
However, it was a sign of things to come as, in the second half, Ghana began to lay siege to the U.S. goal. Asamoah Gyan was presented with a prime opportunity to level with just over an hour played but, as he turned to shoot inside the area, Geoff Cameron was able to make the block.
The U.S. were able to punctuate the pressure with the occasional chance of their own but an equaliser duly arrived on 82 minutes, when Gyan’s clever backheel allowed Andre Ayew the space to find the net.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s men reacted instantly: Graham Zusi sent over a corner for fellow substitute Brooks to head home and restore their lead on 86 minutes to secure a valuable victory.
The U.S. was simply unable to maintain any kind of possession in the second half. Midfielder Michael Bradley, usually an offensive force, played a horrible game. He gave away at least three touches, steered several passes out of bounds, and instead of his usual crisp, accurate through balls, he laid a lot of wet noodles out there to his teammates that the Black Stars easily intercepted.
But Bradley excelled at the defensive end, as he successfully kept the Ghanian playmakers from operating with too much freedom. It is likely that coach Jurgen Klinsman will continue to ask Bradley to hang back more and cover, especially on the left side where DaMarcus Beasley needed help covering the speedy Ghanian wingers.
Brooks replaced centerback Matt Besler who tweaked his hamstring in the first half. The 21-year old Hertha Berlin product is the first American to score a goal in his World Cup debut since Clint Mathis pulled it off in 2002. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
But Ghana, as good and talented a side as they are, is not Portugal or Germany. Both of those teams have the ability and talent to break down the U.S. defense over the course of 90 minutes. Portugal’s international star Ronaldo can do that by himself. If the U.S. expects to get at least a result out of either of those two games, they better find a way to generate some consistent offense. Otherwise, their back line will be exposed to the devastating attacks of Germany and Ronaldo’s magical runs.
But for now, the U.S. can celebrate a gutsy, well-deserved win over their nemesis, Ghana. Going forward without Altidore is a big problem, but solving it can wait until tomorrow. Given that out of 23 World Cup matches since 1990, the U.S. side has won only 5, they might be excused for living in the moment and savoring the victory.
When Spain and the Netherlands met for the World Cup championship in South Africa in 2010, most observers expected a close marking, low scoring game. They were right. It took 116 minutes of play — 90 minutes of regular play plus 26 minutes of extra time — before Andrés Iniesta of Spain broke the hearts of Orange fans everywhere by sending a half-volley skidding across the pitch underneath the frantic dive of the Dutch goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenburg.
Today, at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, the Dutch exacted a satisfying — and shocking — revenge. The Orange first broke down, then exposed Spain’s back line, scoring 4 goals in the second half to win 5-1.
Five goals in a soccer match is a veritable tidal wave of scoring. And in a World Cup? Against the defending champions? Look up in the sky tonight and see if there’s a blue moon.
Spain looked disorganized from the beginning, although they managed to take a 1-0 lead when their Brazilian born striker Diego Costa went down in the penalty area on a questionable call. The Atlético Madrid product then buried the penalty kick giving Spain the lead.
Just before halftime, the Dutch responded by scoring one of the prettiest goals you’re bound to see during this year’s tournament. Daley Blind sent a long, shallow cross to the goal mouth from the left wing that Manchester United forward Robin van Persie headed beautifully over the keeper and into the back of the net.
The second half was all Netherlands:
The celebrations were even better eight minutes into the second half, when a piece of Robben magic gave them the lead.
Van Persie’s chip picked out his teammate, but he had plenty still to do as he controlled the ball brilliantly with the outside of his boot before turning Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, converting with a slight deflection off the latter.
There was no holding Netherlands back, though, Van Persie cracking a volley against the crossbar on the hour before De Vrij made it 3-1 from Sneijder’s curling free-kick. Casillas came to claim but failed, with De Vrij on hand to bundle home at the far post.
The pace only increased from there, Silva’s close-range finish chalked off for offside before Netherlands extended their lead to three in the 72nd minute. Casillas was wholly culpable this time, turning a harmless back pass into one dreadful touch and an open goal for the alert Van Persie.
Robben completed Spain’s misery with 10 minutes left, collecting Sneijder’s pass and then reducing Casillas and his defenders to a floundering mess as he made room for an emphatic finish.
Arjen Robben, the Bayern Munich star, was all over the pitch during the match, scoring twice and sending cross after cross to waiting teammates in the scoring area as the Spanish defense stood around in befuddlement.
Spain gave up more goals in this one game than they did during their entire 2010 championship run. The last two goals you could chalk up to Spain moving everyone forward, looking to get back in the game. But the Spanish keeper Iker Casillas of Real Madrid looked shaky and his lousy first touch of a simple back pass was gobbled up by van Persie who beat a Spanish defender to the ball and rammed it home.
Spain can recover. These are some of the best professional players in the world and you would expect them to forget this game and move on. But the road will not be easy. They will be tested by a strong Chile side on June 18 before finishing group play against plucky Australia on the 23rd. Two victories and they’ll win through to the Round of 16. Anything less and their fate will be out of their own hands.
Long time Sports Illustrated columnist and ESPN commentator Rick Reilly is retiring from the business at age 56.
Reilly didn’t invent the human interest sports story, but he may have perfected it. His “Life of Reilly” columns at SI were full of ordinary athletes performing with incredible handicaps. He wrote of their families, their teammates, and their communities with love and respect.
And man, could he write. Reilly and P.J. O’Rourke are the reasons I decided to try my hand at writing so late in life. Reilly had an ability to boil down the essence of a story until nothing but shining truth remained.
Reilly reminisced about some of the people he wrote about along the way at ESPN.com:
I’d notice how Michael Jordan never appeared before us until his tie was tied, his $3,000 suit buttoned, his silk pocket square just so. From him, I learned professionalism.
I watched safe after safe fall on John Elway’s head — Super Bowl losses, divorce, the loss of his twin sister and his beloved dad — and yet he refused to allow himself one ounce of self-pity. From him, I learned grit.
I’d see how Jim Murray would get up out of his chair in the press box to greet each of the dozens of people who just wanted to shake the great sports writer’s hand, even though he could hardly see his chair, much less their hands. From him, I learned humility.
I wrote about the teammates of high school cross country runner Ben Comen, who would finish their 3-mile races and then double back out onto the course to run with Ben and his limping cerebral palsy gait. From them, I learned love.
I discovered the athletes of Middlebury College, who would pick up a severely handicapped fan named Butch, load him into the car and take him to every game, where they’d provide a hot dog, a Coke and a buddy. From them, I learned service.
Never let anyone tell you sports doesn’t matter. Never let them tell you it’s all about the wins, the losses and the stats. Sports is so much more than that. It’s your grandfather and you and the way a Sunday Bears game bonds you like Super Glue. It’s what you ask of yourself to break four hours in the marathon. It’s the way your softball buddies can still laugh about you hitting the ump instead of the cutoff man 30 years later.
From his perch at SI, Reilly brought readers into the world of sport like no other writer of this or any other generation. Using the drama and sweep of sports to tell the most intimate of stories was inspired writing and the fact that he could pull it off most of the time speaks to his talent and his heart.
Reilly has not been forthcoming about his plans for the future except to say he’ll be living in Italy. His fans will look forward with anticipation for whatever genius flows from his pen.
One of the NHL’s all-time greats has played his last game. Teemu Selanne — the “Finnish Flash” — who played 21 seasons with three teams, confirmed his retirement after his Anaheim Ducks team was ousted from the playoffs in a second round game 7 against the Los Angeles Kings.
The NHL Rookie of the Year in 1992-93, Selanne set a rookie record for goals and total points that still stands. He joined the old Winnipeg Jets after playing 3 years professionally in Finland. Internationally, he played in 6 Olympics for his home country, winning 3 Bronze Medals and a Silver. He was named the 2014 Sochi Olympics Most Valuable Player.
Selanne is one of eight players to score 70 or more goals in a season. Overall, he ended up with 684 goals, good for 11th best in history. His 1457 points are good for 15th best.
In his youth, he was one of the fastest players on ice with a hard, accurate shot. He had a nose for the puck and could be found sniffing around the net for a rebound that usually landed on his stick. Selanne possessed excellent hockey instincts and was an above average defensive player, although it was never a strong point in his play.
Following the Ducks 6-2 loss to Anaheim last night, the traditional handshake line began. NHL.Com mic’d up Selanne for this last hurrah as his opponents said goodbye. Then, the crowd erupted in cheers and began to chant his name as the Kings tapped their sticks rhythmically on the ice. Selanne teared up at this wonderful gesture and acknowledged the love.
A remarkable tribute for a remarkable player.
(Full disclosure: I am Chicago editor of PJ Media and obviously have a rooting interest in who wins.)
The Stanley Cup may be the most unique trophy in all of professional sports. Unlike other pro sports awards that are made new each year and presented to the winner, the Cup remains in the possession of the previous year’s champion until a new one is crowned.
In the off season, each member of the winning team gets to keep the Cup for one day. It’s flown around on a special jet, making appearances in players’ home towns all over the world. A truly special moment for the player and his family.
Given that tradition, it’s no wonder that NHL playoff hockey games are a spectacle of intensity, courage, and brilliant play. This makes repeating as champion in back-to-back years an extremely difficult proposition.
So many things can happen to derail a repeat; a hot opposing goalie in one of the early rounds, injuries, even a lack of intensity by the champion. The last team to win the Cup two seasons in a row was Detroit in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
The reigning Stanley Cup champions are the Chicago Blackhawks. What are their chances to repeat the feat and grab the Cup once again?
Here are 5 reasons the Hawks will win again.
1. Outstanding production from their superstars.
Following the break for the Winter Olympics, the Blackhawks went into a minor funk. Part of the reason for that was injuries to some of their key players. But overall, they just weren’t getting the scoring from their bevy of talented forwards.
Then the playoffs began and it was like someone flipped a switch. Wingers Patrick Kane and Marion Hossa, and center Jonathan Toews have elevated their games to another level. With Coach Joel Quennville juggling line combinations to get at least one of his best players on the ice at all times, the Blackhawks offense has flourished in first 9 games.
2. The Return of Brian Bickell
One of the big stars of the Blackhawk’s run for the Cup last year was Brian Bickell – a most unlikely hero on a team chock full of offensive talent, Bickell played on the third line — a grouping that Quennville would send out to check the opposing team’s top line. He ended up scoring 9 goals and 8 assists in 23 playoff games for the Hawks, giving them an offensive boost in the tight checking, low scoring playoff games.
But Bickell had a below average regular season this year, playing in only 62 of a possible 82 games and scoring only 11 goals and 4 assists. He was benched a few times by Quennville for sometimes lackluster play.
But someone lit a fire under Bickell once these playoffs began and he is once again producing at key times. He’s tied for second on the team for points scored in the playoffs and is flying around the ice, using his 6’4″ 230 lb frame as a battering ram to terrorize opposing forwards. Bickell adds a much needed presence in front of the net where his bulk screens goalies from seeing shots.
If Bickell can continue to contribute, the Hawks will be tough to beat.
When Kevin Durant was drafted second overall in the 2007 NBA draft by the Seattle Supersonics, much was expected of the gangly, 19 year old, 6’9″ 200 lb University of Texas product. Durant didn’t disappoint. He led all NBA rookies in scoring and was named Rookie of the Year.
But Seattle finished a dismal 20-62 that year and, failing to hold up the state of Washington for a new arena, ownership packed up and moved to Oklahoma City where a unique and special love affair between city and fans still endures.
Making that love affair even more special, Durant was named Most Valuable Player by the NBA for the 2013-14 season.
In his acceptance speech — a 25 minute tearful tribute to the city, the fans, his teammates, coaches, and most of all, to his mother — Durant recounted anecdote after anecdote that revealed why he felt so blessed to be where he was.
To say he had a rough time growing up is an understatement:
On his mother: “One my best memories I have is when we moved into our first apartment. No bed, no furniture, we all just sat in the living room and just hugged each other. We thought we made it. … You wake me up in the middle of the night in the summertime, making me run up a hill, making me do push-ups. Screaming at me from the sidelines of my games at eight or nine years old … When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.
His mother also worked hard to keep her son out of trouble:
As Rose had reminded us just a few years before, these big boys of the NBA are never too old to thank the women who brought them into the world — even when it’s in front of the world. When Durant nearly quit basketball as a seventh-grader, the gangly kid questioning everything from his own talent to the idea that all of this hard work was even worth it and telling his Godfather, Taras “Stink” Brown, that he was done, Wanda was the one who told him to keep going.
Pratt, who worked as a Postal Service mail handler to make ends meet, had grown up on the same rough streets as her boys. She knew that quitting anything at this crucial stage only led youngsters down a dark path. Then during his freshman season at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md., with Durant frustrated at the lack of attention from AAU coaches and tempted by things that tempt kids at that age, he nearly quit again until guess-who intervened.
“I was going to quit, and be a so-called street guy,” he told me in April 2012. “(Pratt) could see it in my eyes and she pulled me to the side one day, and she slapped it out of me. She talked to me, gave me some good words and kind of revved me up a little bit, so ever since then I’ve been on the same path.”
Durant proved himself a community leader during the aftermath of the devastating tornado that struck Oklahoma City in 2013, donating a million dollars to the Red Cross and making appearances around the city to boost morale and comfort those who lost so much.
But Oklahoma City fans didn’t need any proof of Durant’s philanthropy. He has given millions of dollars to charitable organizations in the city over the years and given generously of his time to youth groups, trying to keep at-risk kids out of trouble.
Durant took his game from the stratosphere into outer space this year — a primary reason he got 119 first place MVP votes compared to perennial winner Lebron James’ 6. His teammate and friend Russell Westbrook was out 27 games with knee surgery and during that time, Durant put on a display of offensive play rarely seen in the history of the game:
Durant’s run of 41 consecutive games this season with at least 25 points was the third longest streak in NBA history. In all, he scored at least 40 points 14 times. He also averaged 7.4 rebounds and a career-high 5.5 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field.
“He does everything,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “You just can’t recall a guy that long who can do what he does every single night. Shooting from 30 feet on the floor with confidence and driving to the basket and dunking on guys, and then go post up, and on top of it, a great teammate and good kid.”
Durant moved to the front of the pack while Westbrook was out following his most recent knee surgery. Durant averaged 35 points and 6.3 assists during that span as the Thunder went 20-7 and remained among the league’s elite.
But is Durant the best player in the game today? It’s an esoteric argument considering it’s hard to qualitatively compare James and Durant. A purely statistical comparison would give the nod to Durant — this year. But James has been so good for so long that a good argument could be made that Lebron stands at the top of the NBA pyramid.
Let’s put it this way; I wouldn’t want to live on the difference between the two.
There’s so much raunchiness and ugliness in professional sports. But it may be symptomatic of why we love the games so much that one week, you can have Donald Sterling being punished for an ugly, racial tirade and the next, reward one of the truly nice people in sports with a Most Valuable Player award.
The imbroglio involving TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley’s comments about obese people is one of those incidents that you find it hard to agree with either side. Barkley — once known as the “round mound of rebound” should be the last person making fun of fat women. His fellow analyst Shaq O’Neil looks like he’s been packing on the pounds himself since he retired.
You have to imagine the TNT studio guys sitting around, mouthing off as guys might do in a locker room or a Man Cave, giving their opinions about how some women look, how ugly or hot they are. Except these guys are on national TV with a couple of million people tuning in.
Barkley was prompted by co-host Kenny Smith, another retired NBA player, who asked, “what kind of women are in San Antonio?”
“Big old women down there,” Barkley replied to extensive laughter from his fellow hosts on Tuesday, who aside from Smith include Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson. “That’s a gold mine for Weight Watchers.” (Barkley himself is a spokesperson for Weight Watchers.) He later added, “Victoria’s definitely a secret. They can’t wear no Victoria’s Secret down there,” and “they wear big old bloomers down there, ain’t nothing skimpy down in San Antonio.”
Barkley went on and on as his co-hosts egged him on, asking, “they have spandex down there in San Antonio?” and “it’s a gold mine — it’s a gold mine.”
Quite insensitive, no? But the reaction from a “fat acceptance” group should put America on notice that the next great drive for victimhood status is going to come from the BBW crowd.
Talk about a “gold mine” — imagine the smiles on the faces of the big, beautiful women who are working to make criticism and mocking of obese people something akin to racism:
The statements are not sitting well with the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance which is now calling for Chuck to apologize, ASAP.
“Making slurs about body size is just as offensive as making comments about body color,” spokesperson Peggy Howell tells TMZ Sports.
“One would think being a black man, he’d be more sensitive to having his physical body criticized. It’s totally out of line. He should absolutely apologize.”
What’s frightening is that she’s serious. The NAAFA says this about the affects of obesity:
Size Discrimination Consequences are Real!
Creates medical and psychological effects
Results in wage disparity
Affects hiring and promotion
Affects academic options and advancement
Affirmative action for people who are weight challenged? Why not? Every other “victim” of white male privilege wants it. Why should obese people be any different?
And victims they are, according to their “Mission”:
To eliminate discrimination based on body size and provide fat people with the tools for self-empowerment though public education, advocacy, and support.
What’s the best way to “eliminate discrimination based on body size”? Piggyback your grievances on those of other oppressed minorities of color, or sex, or sexual orientation.
Fat people are discriminated against in all aspects of daily life, from employment to education to access to public accommodations, and even access to adequate medical care. This discrimination occurs despite evidence that 95 to 98 percent of diets fail over five years and that 65 million Americans are labeled “obese.” Our thin-obsessed society firmly believes that fat people are at fault for their size and it is politically correct to stigmatize and ridicule them. Fat discrimination is one of the last publicly accepted discriminatory practices. Fat people have rights and they need to be upheld!
NAAFA’s message of size acceptance and self-acceptance is often overshadowed by a $49 billion-a-year diet industry that has a vested economic interest in perpetuating discrimination against fat people. Without active financial support from people like you, NAAFA would not exist and could not fulfill its crucial role defending your rights. While it is an uphill battle to achieve our goals, together we are making a difference.
In other words, you, too, can become a protected class under EEOC, affirmative action, and — the jackpot — the Americans with Disabilities Act. All it takes is money to hire a bunch of lobbyists and to contribute to the right political campaigns.
And Barkley, O’Neil, et al just gave the NAAFA and other like minded groups a powerful fundraising tool.
It’s one thing to act like a jerk when you’re alone with your friends making cracks about various women’s anatomical shortcomings. But doing it on national television takes a special kind of insensitivity. Not akin to racism, to be sure. But the simple, empathetic recognition that remarks like that are hurtful of other people’s feelings should have zipped Barkley’s mouth shut — especially considering his own weight problems over the years.
There are many factors that go into obesity and not all are controllable by the individual. Many men and women suffering from thyroid disease are obese, and some adrenal conditions also lead to medical obesity.
But the vast majority of obese people get that way from overeating combined with lack of exercise. When I was 285 pounds and headed for an early grave, I made some very basic, simple changes to what I ate. I didn’t starve myself. Just ate more of some things and less of others. I also made an effort to exercise a little bit.
That was 4 years ago. Since then, I’ve lost 60 lbs. and continue to lose a pound or two every few months. I have no claim to superior “will power” or anything else. It’s just a matter of making smart life choices and sticking with it — without the drama often associated with formal dieting.
Fat people don’t deserve to be ridiculed on national television. Neither do they deserve the protections offered by the federal government for “oppressed” groups. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that groups advocating “fat acceptance” will become as whiny and demanding of special treatment as any other “civil rights” group in Washington.
I actually thought we reached the apex of high dudgeon yesterday when players for the Los Angeles Clippers turned their jerseys inside out during warmups:
In response to Sterling’s purported comments urging a woman to not bring black people to his team’s games, the Clippers on Sunday let their uniforms become a show of solidarity.
They ran out of the tunnel for Game 4 of their first-round playoff at Golden State wearing their warmups. Then they huddled at center court and tossed their warmups to the ground, going through their pregame routine with their red Clippers’ shirts inside out to hide the team’s logo.
Players also wore black wristbands or armbands. They all wore black socks with their normal jerseys.
But the outrage floodgates really opened on Monday.
Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, whose team is opposing the Clippers in the playoff series, urged Clippers fans to boycott game 5. “If it was me, I wouldn’t come to the game,” Jackson. “I believe as fans, the loudest statement they could make as far as fans is to not show up to the game.”
Pardon my cynicism, but that’s easy for him to say. Taking away home-court advantage would give the Warriors the upper hand in a tight series. Of course Jackson, who is black, is no doubt sincerely outraged by Sterling’s comments. If that’s the case, why is he going to coach? If he’s outraged enough to urge opposing fans to stay home, he should be outraged enough to make a statement by not showing up himself.
And that wasn’t the only silliness to rear its head today. Sponsors have also suddenly discovered Mr. Sterling has a racist world view and are pulling out:
The Chumash Casino, the presenting sponsor of the Los Angeles Clippers, jumped ship Monday along with used car dealership chain CarMax and airline Virgin America as advertisers pondered their partnerships with the team in the wake of racist remarks allegedly made by owner Donald Sterling.
State Farm, Kia Motors America, Red Bull, Lumber Liquidators and Sprint have condemned the remarks and said they will suspend their sponsorship and advertising obligations, closely monitor the situation and assess their options
Where were all these fine, upstanding companies a few years ago when it came out that Sterling was keeping blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities from renting his properties based solely on the color of their skin?
- 2006: U.S. Dept. of Justice sued Sterling for housing discrimination. Allegedly, he said, “Black tenants smell and attract vermin.”
- 2009: He reportedly paid $2.73 million in a Justice Dept. suit alleging he discriminated against blacks, Hispanics, and families with children in his rentals. (He also had to pay an additional nearly $5 million in attorneys fees and costs due to his counsel’s “sometimes outrageous conduct.”)
- 2009: Clippers executive (and one of the greatest NBA players in history) sued for employment discrimination based on age and race.
Sterling is a despicable human being — a lowlife slumlord who discriminates against people of color. He’s been sued three times by the government for violating the law and now people are shocked, shocked I tell you, to find out that Mr. Sterling is a Kloset Kluxer.
Hall of Fame basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a soft-spoken, courtly gentleman and one of the best who ever laced them up, penned a common sense op-ed for Time:
What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?
He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?
Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way? Although the impact is similar to Mitt Romney’s comments that were secretly taped, the difference is that Romney was giving a public speech. The making and release of this tape is so sleazy that just listening to it makes me feel like an accomplice to the crime. We didn’t steal the cake but we’re all gorging ourselves on it.
Make no mistake: Donald Sterling is the villain of this story. But he’s just a handmaiden to the bigger evil. In our quest for social justice, we shouldn’t lose sight that racism is the true enemy. He’s just another jerk with more money than brains.
So, if we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played. Let’s be outraged that whoever did the betraying will probably get a book deal, a sitcom, trade recipes with Hoda and Kathie Lee, and soon appear on Celebrity Apprentice and Dancing with the Stars.
Another slam dunk for Kareem.
A rare but not unusual incident in Major League Baseball occurred on Wednesday night. New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected in the second inning for having pine tar on his neck.
Rule 8.02 states: “The pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball.” Nor can a pitcher scuff, cut, or otherwise mark a ball to change its aerodynamic properties. The rule has been around since 1920 after a spitball struck Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in the head, killing him.
Pineda admitted that he applied pine tar to himself before the second inning, saying that he was having trouble gripping the ball on a cold evening. While plausible, any pine tar left on the surface of the ball would also have affected the flight of the ball, thus giving Pineda a significant — and illegal — advantage.
Pineda is likely to be suspended long enough to miss two or three starts. To MLB, it’s a player safety issue. A doctored ball is unpredictable and at speeds approaching 100 MPH, the ball can end a career and do permanent injury. Not only is the pitcher somewhat in the dark about where the ball may go, the foreign substance or other doctored attributes made to the ball cause it to break sharper and later than a legal pitch. This reduces the time a player has to get out of the way.
Of course, the fact that the ball breaks so precipitously is the reason pitchers still cheat today. The inventive ways that pitchers “load up” a ball, or cut it, scuff it, shine it, grease it, muddy it up, or otherwise change its path to the plate are limited only by imagination.
Consider the case of Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry. Perry admitted in a 1989 Sports Illustrated article that he used “K-Y jelly, vaseline, saliva, fishing-line wax, resin, sweat and dirt to make baseballs do peculiar things.” But Perry’s gambit was also psychological. He had a set routine while standing on the mound preparing for the next pitch. He’d rub his uniform front, brush his pitching hand over his leg, grab the bill of his cap with his fingers — all to make the batter think he was loading up the ball. In the end, Perry got into the head of most of his opponents, leading to a successful career.
How widespread is cheating among today’s Big League pitchers? Most pitchers will admit they know how to throw a spitter, or a shine ball, but swear they never do. In fact, it’s difficult to get away with. Most benches have one or two coaches who know all the tricks and can spot a cheater if given enough time. Game video is also examined to ferret out cheating pitchers.
That’s what happened in Boston to Pineda.
Pineda also appeared to have pine tar on his palm during an April 10 start against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, but Boston didn’t complain that night because the substance disappeared the inning after Red Sox manager John Farrell was made aware of it.
This time, Farrell spotted the smudge on Pineda’s neck quite clearly and brought the issue to the attention of home-plate umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis, interrupting a 1-2 count on Grady Sizemore with two outs in the second inning.
“I could see it from the dugout,” Farrell said. “It was confirmed by a number of camera angles in the ballpark. And given the last time we faced him, I felt like it was a necessity to say something.”
In 1987, Joe Niekro, playing for Minnesota at the time, was pitching against the California Angels. In the bottom of the 4th, the Angels complained to home plate umpire Tim Tschida that Niekro’s knuckleball was behaving in ways that even that wacky pitch wasn’t supposed to.
The resulting search by umpires became baseball legend.
Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton once remarked he should get “a Black and Decker commercial” because of all the ways he marked up baseballs.
I figure it takes an inveterate, die-hard Cubs hater to do total justice to a post acknowledging the 100 years that Wrigley Field has been hosting National League baseball. For myself, when I ask myself what is best in life, I respond, “To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, hear the lamentation of their women, and watch the Cubs lose another one.”
Simply put, Cubs fans can’t be trusted to talk intelligently about history, since the only history they know is one of heartbreak and total, abject failure.
How bad is it? I wrote this a few years back when the Cubs actually made the playoffs:
It is the most spectacular record of futility in American history, surpassing anything and everything that could possibly be compared to it, no matter how distantly. Fiction writers couldn’t create such a wretched record of sheer awfulness. Musicians could never compose an ode to capture such ineptness. Dramatists couldn’t write a three act melodrama that would glean the essence of failure and tragedy so perfectly.
In short, for almost an entire century, the Chicago Cubs have been losers – lovable to their fans but incomprehensibly awful to the rest of humanity.
To give you an idea of how truly atrocious this record of shameful failure stacks up, the next closest championship drought in professional sports is a tie between the Arizona Cardinals who haven’t won a championship since 1948 when they were the Chicago Cardinals, and the Cleveland Indians whose last World Series title was the same year. That’s a 40 year gap between the haplessness of the Cubs and their next closest competitors in the hopelessness derby.
And it isn’t only the fact that the Cubs haven’t been champions for so long that makes this franchise such tragic/comic happenstance of history. Simply put, no other sports team has played as badly, lost as consistently, or been as uncompetitive over such long stretches of time as the Chicago National League ballclub. After appearing in 13 World Series by winning the NL Pennant from 1876-1932, they have appeared in exactly 3 Fall Classics since then – none since 1945.
But to get an idea of the true nature of the Cub’s monumental inadequacy, you need to look at the past 50 years or so in order to understand how really appalling this team has been.
From 1947 to 1966 – 20 full Major League seasons – the Cubs had exactly two seasons where they finished above the break even mark for the year. Most of those years, they lost 90 of 162 games. Several campaigns saw the team lose over 100 games. They were a living, breathing joke of a baseball team with some of the most forgettable players in Major League history. And if the team managed by pure, dumb luck to latch on to a prospect who had potential, they somehow managed to trade him away to star for some other team, getting even more forgettable players in return.
It was uncanny. The Cubs found more inventive ways to lose ballgames than the rulebook allowed. Bonehead plays, crucial errors in the field, base running mistakes, decidedly un-clutch hitting, bad bounces, balls lost in the sun, windblown home runs – all contributed at one time or another over that putrid stretch of years to make the Cubs the laughingstock of baseball.
So Wrigley Field has seen it all — as well as some stuff that a surrealist could never dream of. For instance - The Bartman Caper:
Bartman is the hapless Cubs fan who is accused of singlehandedly keeping the Cubs out of the 2003 World Series by supposedly interferring with a pop foul down the left field line at Wrigley Field in the 8th inning of game 6 of the League Championship Series against the Marlins with the Cubbies up 3 games to 2 and 5 outs away from their first World Series appearane since 1945. Cubs hurler Mark Pryor was pitching a 3 hit shutout at the time and the Cubs were ahead 3-0 with one out in the inning when left fielder Moises Alou ambled over to the wall to catch the ball only to have Mr. Bartman reach out and snag it before Alou had a chance to get a glove on it.
Replays clearly showed the ball was catchable by Alou. But it was the left fielder’s angry, disgusted reaction and his glaring at the poor young man that set the fans off. They pelted Bartman with beer, popcorn, hot dog wrappers, and anything that wasn’t nailed down. They kept it up as Bartman, for his own safety, was escorted from the park by a phalanx of beefy Chicago cops. And they kept right on throwing things on the field when the Marlins, given a second chance, went on to score 8 runs in the inning, winning game six and then coming from behind once again in game 7 to defeat the Northsiders and take the series 4 games to 3.
The aftermath of the incident was surreal. A Da-Daist playwrite couldn’t have come up with anything more bizarre than what happened next. Bartman was hounded by Cubs fans from across the country. A newspaper published his name and address as well as his place of work. He was the butt of late night jokes for weeks. Political cartoons featured Bartman hiding out with Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden. The ball Bartman tried to catch was actually scooped up by a Chicago lawyer who sold it at auction where it was bought by a Chicago resturanter named Grant DePorter for the astronomical sum of $113,824.16. The ball was later blown to smithereens on live television by a special effects wizard from Hollywood with what was left of it steamed – the essence of which was added to the soup at Harry Carey’s landmark restaurant in downtown Chicago.
So how did the Cubs celebrate Wrigley Field’s 100th Anniversary? They lost a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning, allowing Arizona to score 5 runs in a sequence of events that prove even to the most skeptical among us, that the ballpark — and the ball team – is cursed:
Before a crowd of 32,323 — about 9,000 under capacity, the Cubs led 5-2 in the ninth. Strop walked Chris Owings on four pitches and Castro allowed Tony Campana’s grounder to kick off his glove for an error. Castro tried to keep his left leg on second as he retrieved the ball, and second base umpire Brian O’Nora called the sliding Owings safe — a decision confirmed by the replay umpire in New York.
Pinch-hitter Eric Chavez walked on a full count, loading the bases, and Gerardo Parra struck out. Prado’s bouncer up the middle bounded off second base, eluding second baseman Darwin Barney and kicking into short right-center field as the Diamondbacks closed to 5-4. Strop struck out Paul Goldschmidt for the second out.
Montero fouled off a 2-2 pitch, took a ball, and then lined a tying single to right. Hill blooped a ball down the right-field line and Justin Ruggiano appeared to injure his left hamstring as he tried for a sliding catch near the foul line and the bullpen mound. He needed assistance to leave the field and was replaced by Ryan Kalish.
Have you ever seen the like? Two walks, three hits — including a windblown triple where the Cubs player was injured –a bizarre error, and a 5-2 deficit was turned into a 7-5 lead. This is the way it’s been for much of Wrigley Field’s 100 year history.
They are planning a $500 million renovation of Wrigley, including putting up a gigantic scoreboard in right field and a 1000 foot advertising sign in right. Of course, this would obscure the view of rooftops fans across the street who are as much a part of the charm of Wrigley as the ivy on the outfield walls. But like kids peering through a knothole in the center field fence in some old parks, management frowns on anyone making money on the Cubs unless their name is Ricketts.
Sure I hate the Cubs. But I’m enough of a baseball traditionalist to love Wrigley Field. So, Happy Birthday, old Girl. I sincerely hope you don’t have to wait another 100 years for a World Series championship.
Underdogs, that is. No fewer than 5 teams seeded lower than their opponent won away games this past weekend, demonstrating that a rough kind of parity may finally have come to the NBA.
The two big surprises; Top seed in the East, Indiana, got beaten up by 8 seed Atlanta and the West’s 3 seed, the LA Clippers, couldn’t get by the 6 seed Golden State Warriors.
In a less spectacular surprise, 4 seed Chicago was taken down by 5 seed Washington, 3 seed Toronto lost to 6 seed Nets, and 5 seed Portland squeaked by 4 seed Houston.
The Indiana Pacers are the head case of this playoffs. After shooting out of the gate looking like they would win it all, the Pacers got a little banged up injury wise after the all star break and seemed to lose focus.
This funk has carried over to the playoffs:
The nightmare continues into the postseason. Remember, there used to be a time when Indy’s defense could mask its offensive woes, but the freefall began when the Pacers couldn’t get stops. That was the story for Game 1, as Indy shot 15-of-41 in the second half but without a defense to respond. Atlanta spread the Pacers and made them pay with 11 three-pointers. The bigger picture reveals a still freefalling Pacers team that Frank Vogel has obviously lost. Game 1 is a clear sign the Hawks can definitely win the series — which somehow isn’t a surprise considering it’s a top seed vs. a losing record.
Star review: Roy Hibbert is the punchline in this joke of collapse of the Pacers. He finished with eight points, eight rebounds and zero blocks in Game 1, which aren’t too different from his regular-season numbers but are much different from his 17-point and 9.9-rebound averages last postseason. Paul George handled his business for the most part, but Hibbert needs to find himself if the Pacers hope to escape the first round.
Looking ahead: Game 2 at Indiana, Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET
How’s this for a reward for six months of hard work? The Pacers fight for a No. 1 seed and then drop the first game against the No. 8 seed. All that effort, and just like that a below-.500 team has stolen away homecourt. As bad as the Pacers have been, though, it’s hard to imagine the league’s best home team will drop both games 1 and 2. Expect the Pacers to bounce back.
The same could be said for most of the favorites who lost home court advantage. In most cases, it appeared to me that the home team failed to match the intensity of the visitors. This was especially true in the Bulls and Clippers games where it took both teams most of the first half to find their games. Neither the Warriors or Wizards are bad teams, but Chicago and LA have more talent than their opponents and know how to win. Expect both teams to take care of business in game 2.
In the case of Brooklyn and Portland, those series’ were expected to be very competitive anyway so look for both to extend out to 6-7 games.
A note on the officiating; it was uniformly awful. Ticky tack fouls being called while muggings under the basket were ignored. The number of whistles interfered in the flow of the game, and a bad call might have cost the Clippers a win:
With 18.9 seconds left in the game and the Clippers down 107-105, Clippers point guard Chris Paul was dribbling the ball above the arc when he was double-teamed by Steve Blake and Draymond Green. Paul then lost the ball after Green reached in and looked as if he had committed a foul.
The play was reviewed but since no foul was called on the floor, the only reviewable action was who touched the ball last, which was Paul. The Warriors would get the ball, hit two more free throws and go on to win the game.
The league took the extraordinary step of admitting the ref made a mistake. They issued a statement:
“Under the existing rule, referees may only use instant replay to determine which player caused the ball to go out and a limited set of other reviewable matters,” NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn said in a statement. “Just prior to the ball going out of bounds, Paul was fouled by Green and Paul should have been granted two free throws. Contact preceding out of bounds calls is not a reviewable matter.”
Dear refs: Please put the whistle in your pocket and let the players play.
I have thrown down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside.
They have seen my strength for themselves, have watched me rise from the darkness of war, dripping with my enemies’blood.
I swam in the blackness of night, hunting monsters, out of the ocean, and killing them one by one; death was my errand and the fate they had earned.
The Spam War is over and I have emerged victorious.
I have slain the “aunt who earned $6571 a month from her home using only her computer.” I have vanquished “Earn up to $100/day. And whats awesome is Im working from home so I get more time with my family.”
These spam are no more! They have ceased to be! They’ve expired and gone to meet their maker! They’re stiff! Bereft of life, they’re resting in peace! Their metabolic processes are now history! They’re off the twig! They’ve kicked the bucket, shuffled off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible! THESE ARE EX-SPAM!
About 7 years — or perhaps it was months — ago, Prince Aaron of Hanscom charged me with the sacred duty of seeking out and destroying the insidious invaders of our fair website who were bedeviling residents and visitors alike. As I rode off to combat this menace, the look on the faces of the court told me they did not expect me to triumph. There were whispers of the near invincibility of my foe — their resilience, their skill in battle, and most of all, their relentless constitution — a mindless, Zombie-like instinct to survive. To fight, to lose, to come back and fight again…and again — this is what I faced.
At first, I felt nearly helpless. The daily deluge was overwhelming. I would smite 100 only to have 200 take their place. The enemy was laughing at me, toying with me. After laboring all day, finally winning the battle, I would fall exhausted into a fitful sleep — only to awake early the next morning to discover that these apparitions from hell didn’t need sleep, didn’t need rest (or they were based somewhere in Europe or Asia). Peppering the many sites of PJM were 80-100 more of these demons, and the early morning combat — on an empty stomach, mind you — drained my strength, and sapped my will.
Eventually, it dawned on me that I, too, must develop a war strategy. I must maximize my strengths and limit my weaknesses. Only then could I meet the enemy on equal ground. Only then would the tide turn in my favor and I become master of the Spam universe.
As a conservative, a traditionalist, and a baseball fan for 55 years, I can say that I hate instant replay. I used to hate the designated hitter but eventually, grudgingly, accepted it so chances are pretty good about 30 years from now, I’ll get used to the game being taken out of the hands of flawed, mistake-prone umpires and placed in the hands of technology.
I always saw mistakes made by the umps as simply the “rub-o-the-green” — thems the breaks, boys and over 162 games, the bad calls tend to even themselves out. But the powers that be in baseball didn’t quite see it like that, so they built a huge “war room” in New York — the Replay Operations Center — with dozens of TV feeds for league officials to view a play and make the right call.
I am probably a little more gleeful than I should be when I report that the plot to destroy baseball via replay is not going according to plan. In fact, at this rate, the fans will be screaming for the wires to be ripped out of the ROC and by mid-season, the league go back to relying on human beings to make the right call.
I can tolerate the growing pains of expanded replay, the flaws in the challenge system, the awkward delays as managers decide whether to seek reviews, the debates over what constitutes a proper transfer, a proper catch.
But no one should tolerate calls that are blatantly incorrect after review — not now, not with a system that supposedly was designed to help baseball avoid egregious mistakes.
Something is terribly wrong when television viewers are getting better access to conclusive angles than the umpires at the $30 million Replay Operations Center in New York. And it happened twice Saturday, first in a game between the Yankees and Red Sox, then in one between the Braves and Nationals.
If it’s any consolation to Red Sox manager John Farrell, I spent Sunday trying to get a better explanation for Anna-gate from Major League Baseball, and none was forthcoming.
Farrell became the first manager to receive an automatic ejection for arguing a replay decision later that night, contending that the out call on the Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli at first base should not have been overturned because the replays were inconclusive.
The essence of Farrell’s argument is that the ball needed simply to enter first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove, not hit the back of it. The confusion alone over what qualifies as an out is embarrassing to baseball, but Farrell would not have been nearly as hot if not for the shenanigans of the day before.
Clearly, Farrell was still seething over the missed call Saturday — the one in which replay conclusively showed the Yankees’ Dean Anna had his foot off second base when he was tagged by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts with one out in the eighth inning.
At least, the replay on FOX Sports 1 and other networks broadcasting the game conclusively showed that. No one is quite sure what the umpires at the Replay Operations Center were quite watching, but evidently their 12 feeds were not good enough.
The promise of this expanded replay was that it would be quick (90 seconds or less), and the calls would finally be correct. But, like football replay which came in making the same promises, the reality is quite different. What we found with replays in football was that even multiple angles and several minutes of examining tape, there were many inconclusive outcomes. The standard of “incontrovertible proof” necessary to overturn a call is, after all, arbitrary, and you end up adding a human element anyway.
No Tiger, no problem.
Tiger Woods may not be playing in the Masters Tournament this year, but that doesn’t mean that the usual drama and competitiveness that goes with any tournament at Augusta National won’t be present.
Golf.com gives us a couple of story lines guaranteed to pique your interest and get you watching this weekend:
The Rookies: There are 24 first-timers in the field, breaking the record for number of Masters rookies. The big difference this year: Between newbies like Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker, who have six victories between them in the last 12 months, these guys are brash enough to contend on the weekend and maybe even to win, becoming the first rookie to slip on the jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in ’79.
The early favorite to lead the group of 24: WGC-Cadillac champion Reed, who went to Augusta State and played the course three times as an amateur. It was Reed who pronounced himself a top-five player after winning at Doral. As if to say, “Prove it,” the powers that be at Augusta National have put him in a threesome with Rory McIlroy and Spieth for the first two rounds. They’re off at 10:52 a.m. Thursday.
Rory McIlroy: Tournament favorite McIlroy, who is coming off a final-round 65 and a T7 in Houston, and who (other than the Australian Open) hasn’t won anything of note in the last 18 months, looked primed to atone for his 2011 Masters meltdown. McIlroy opened that Masters with a 65, closed with an 80, and has had unfinished business here ever since.
Brandt Snedeker: Unfinished business? Brandt Snedeker is still trying to erase the memory of 2007, when he limped in with a 77 to tie for third and broke down. Snedeker tied for eighth in his last start at Bay Hill.
Freddie: At least one old guy usually makes an unlikely charge on the weekend, whether it’s 58-year-old Jack Nicklaus in 1998 (he ran out of miracles and tied for sixth) or Bernhard Langer last year. (Langer faded with a final-round 76 but was on the leaderboard early Sunday.) You’ve got to believe Fred Couples will be up there in or near the lead on the weekend. The 1992 champion here, Couples has tied for second, won, and finished fifth in three starts on the Champions Tour in 2014.
Many fans will be rooting for 3-time Masters winner Phil Mickelson, who’s had trouble putting it altogether this year so far. One of the most creative shot makers in the game, Mickelson usually plays well at Augusta and is perfectly capable of elevating his game to meet the challenge.
The 2013 Masters Champion, Australian Adam Scott, will be looking become only the 4th back to back Masters champ in history (Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, and Jack Nicklaus). The Aussie’s sweet swing has propelled him to near the top of the world rankings. If he finishes 3rd or better at Augusta, he will take the top spot away from Tiger Woods.
Even if you can’t stand golf, you can still enjoy the broadcast. Augusta National is truly one of the more beautiful spots on earth and with spring fully sprung, the blooming azaleas, dogwoods, and other plants and bushes fill up your TV screen with color and beauty.
For this Midwesterner, it will be a sight for sore eyes after the brutal winter we just experienced.
ESPN will broadcast a re-enactment tonight of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run that broke Babe Ruth’s all time major league record that stood for 39 years. Aaron hit the blast 40 years ago today, April 8, 1974.
The Milwaukee/Atlanta slugger hit a total of 755 home runs in his illustrious career. Aaron, however, does not hold the record today. That mark belongs to Barry Bonds, who ended up hitting 762 dingers.
But Bonds disgraced himself by taking performance enhancing drugs. Even though he hit more homers than Aaron, it is doubtful he will ever make the Hall of Fame, as sportswriters who cast the votes to send players to the HOF have yet to elect a PED violator from the steroids era.
I don’t think ESPN is necessarily trying to send a message that Aaron’s record breaker is more deserving of acknowledgment than Bonds’. But the contrast between the gentlemanly and dignified Aaron, and the surly, snarling Bonds along with Aaron’s sense of fair play and sportsmanship compared to Bonds’ cheating can’t be ignored.
The lead-up to Aaron’s historic blast was nervracking:
The legendary home run did not come without some controversy. Braves’ management wanted Aaron to break the record at home, but they opened the season with three games in Cincinnati. The team planned to sit Aaron for the three games, but commissioner Bowie Kuhn ruled he had to play in at least two games.
Aaron, then 40, tied Ruth’s record with his 714th career homer in his very first at-bat of the season. He went 0-for-5 with a walk and two strikeouts the rest of the series against the Reds. On the first pitch of his first at-bat of his first home game of the 1974 season, Aaron broke the record with a solo shot off Al Downing, who had a long and excellent career himself.
As you can imagine, Aaron received death threats for months leading up to the record-breaking homer. Newspapers reportedly prepared obituaries in case Aaron was murdered in the days leading up to or just after breaking the record. He also received a lot of support, from fans and the media alike.
Aaron finished that 1974 season with 20 homers, his lowest total since his rookie season in 1954. He played two more years and retired with 755 career home runs, a record that stood until Barry Bonds hit his 756th homer in 2007. Ruth’s record stood for 39 years.
Believe it or not, Aaron only led the league in homers four times in his 23-year career. His career high was 47 home runs in 1971, but he did hit 40+ homers eight times. From 1957-73, only twice did Aaron fail to hit 30+ homers. The man was as consistent as they come.
Aaron turned 80 years old back in February. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1982, receiving 97.8 percent of the vote. That is the sixth highest percentage in baseball history and was the second highest at the time, trailing only Ty Cobb.
There are still a lot of people who consider Aaron the all-time home run king, but, either way, he is one of the best and most dominant hitters in the history of the game. Record or no record, he was (and still is) a class act and one of the greatest players who ever lived.
In 1968, the altar boys of St. Raymond’s parish were given a treat; a ticket to a major league ballgame at Wrigley Field. The Cubs took on the Atlanta Braves that day and we were all excited to see the legendary Hank Aaron in person.
It was late September and the cold north wind off Lake Michigan blew straight in toward home plate, signifying that there were likely to be no home runs hit that day. But as Hank Aaron stepped to the plate for his second at bat, a bunch of us left the cheap seats and, since there were only a couple of thousand people in the stands, made our way opposite home plate in the lower deck to watch the great one hit.
Aaron was not a big man, but he was immensely strong — especially his hands and wrists. We watched in amazement as Aaron swung at a pitch that appeared to be almost in the catcher’s glove, the bat whistling through the strike zone and meeting the ball perfectly, sending it on a low line over the center field wall for a home run.
The thrill of a lifetime. A homerun hit by one of the true gentlemen of the game — pioneer and icon. It is good to give a nod of recognition to the event that, 40 years ago, resulted in breaking a record many thought would never be broken.
He’s won 5 world championships, made 13 All-Star game appearances, won 5 Gold Gloves, and in 2009, was named Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year.” But beyond the awards and honors, Derek Jeter has been proudest of the uniform he wears — that of the New York Yankees — an organization he has represented with class and dignity for 20 years.
Not bad for a kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan who dreamed of playing shortstop for the Yankees growing up. Also not bad, a stat sheet stuffed with numbers that will almost certainly make him a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee 5 years from now.
The career line on Jeter — a line he will be adding to in this, his final year — tells the story of the consummate professional and teammate.
At Bats: 10,634
Batting Average: .312
Hits: 3211 (8th all time)
Home Runs: 256
Runs Batted In: 1262
On Base Percentage: .381
He was not a big home run hitter — except when the Yankees desperately needed one. He was never a big RBI man either (although part of the reason for that was because he hit 2nd in the batting order), but will be remembered as one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time.
Simply put, Derek Jeter is a winner. And as he played his final opening day at Yankees Stadium, he showed why:
“I have emotions,” Jeter says, “I just hide it. I’ve just been pretty good trying to control my emotions. You have feelings. There are a lot of “wow” moments when you’re in New York, but for me, I always felt it was easier for me to play if I try to control my emotions.”
Jeter, playing in the final home-opener of his Yankees’ career, struck out in his first at-bat, and maybe those emotions got the best of him.
REUNITED: The Core 4 reunite before opener
“You’re human,” Jeter said. “Everyone has emotions. Everyone has feelings. Especially here, we played in so many big games, so many special games throughout the course of my career. I’ll be nervous. I’ll have butterflies before this game starts, but I do that all of the time.”
This game, of course, was different than any other Jeter has ever played.
It is the last home opener of his career at Yankee Stadium. He was reunited with the rest of the Core Four before the game — the nucleus that won five World Series titles together. Jeter caught a ceremonial first pitch from Mariano Rivera. Jorge Posada caught Andy Pettitte.
“He’s the last one standing now,” said Rivera, who retired after last season with Pettitte.
The celebrations and tributes won’t just stop this day, Girardi says, but continue the entire season.
“I think it will be a love-fest, and appreciation-fest,” Girardi says, “people trying to soak it all in. I think people will show their appreciation, no matter what, just what he’s meant to the Yankees.”
And despite the perception, Jeter corrected reporters Monday, he will fully appreciate every last moment of this season, including all of the tributes and ceremonies.
“I will enjoy it,” Jeter says. “Every city I go to, every game I play, I will enjoy it. But at the same time, I get the fact that I have to play a game. I have to play a season.
“Not enjoying it is the wrong way to put it, but balancing it is a better way to put it.”
Whatever accolades Jeter gets from fans around baseball this season, he will deserve. They used to refer to some players as a “credit to the game.” You don’t hear that saying much anymore, what with drugs, assaults, steroids, and rude behavior on the part of many players. The game has not only changed, but the player’s attitudes toward it have also been altered. There isn’t the same respect and reverence for the past that there once was.
But Jeter proved that he gets it every time he put on the pin stripes and stepped onto the most iconic ballfield in the sport. For the last 20 years, on one of the biggest stages in sports, Derek Jeter rose to the occasion. And the game is better for it.
The most prolific scorer in the history of the US Men’s National Team may be left off the roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this June.
Through 154 international appearances, Landon Donovan has scored 57 goals — the only American to score 50 or more goals in the history of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), the international governing body of soccer for the hemisphere. His heroics in the last three World Cups have made him the biggest star of US Men’s soccer.
But at age 32, Donovan’s greatest physical asset — his speed — is deserting him. In last night’s international friendly against Mexico in Phoenix, Donovan didn’t make an appearance until the 59th minute. He looked sluggish in his few touches and failed to help generate any offense for the Americans who, after a stellar first half where they went ahead 2-0, had several defensive breakdowns in the second half and allowed Mexico to score a pair of goals themselves as the game ended in a 2-2 tie.
Donovan was apparently bothered by a sore knee. But USA Men’s coach Jurgen Klinsman didn’t like the way Donovan trained in the week leading up to the match and relegated him to a reserve role.
Is this to be his fate? Or might he be left off the team altogether and his spot taken by 18 year old phenom Julian Green?
Oh, and there was one other thing that Klinsmann said he discovered: Julian Green, who went in alongside Donovan early in the second half, just may be worth a spot on the U.S. team this summer — maybe even Donovan’s spot.
“You saw in some moments what this kid is capable of doing,” Klinsmann said. “How he goes in the box and draws two guys. Obviously he was nervous too. He plays his first cap in front of 60,000 against Mexico. But the team welcomed him with open arms.
“You understand within 10 minutes if he’s a good player or not. Julian is a very good player. So we are happy to have him playing for us. It was a good start for him.”
As for Donovan, he didn’t start Wednesday because he looked sluggish in training and complained of a sore knee. Should he find himself as a permanent part-time player this summer after more than a decade leading the U.S. team, his spot could go to Green, a German American who didn’t become eligible to play for the U.S. until last week.
The 18-year-old is currently playing for Bayern Munich II in the fourth tier of German soccer, but he ranks third in the league with 15 goals in 23 games and Klinsmann has hinted that Green will get strong consideration for one of 23 spots on the U.S. team for the World Cup in Brazil.
“He’s a good player,” captain Clint Dempsey said. “In a tough game he was able to get some good touches.”
Donvan’s storied World Cup career never translated into success with European club teams. Four times, he traveled across the Atlantic to try and make an impact with a top European side. And 4 times, he returned home, never able to really crack the line-up of the better teams. His last stint with Bayern Munich lasted just 7 games before he was “loaned” to the LA Galaxy. Donovan admitted to having trouble adjusting to the European game and culture.
In contrast to his disappointments overseas, Donovan has thrived in the American MSL. But the rest of the world sees the American game as inferior and Donovan has always ached to prove himself on the international stage.
Will he get the chance? It’s almost inconceivable that Klinsman would leave Donovan off the roster — even in favor of a talented 18 year old like Green. Donovan may be slowing down, but he has a nose for the ball and has risen to the occasion when the US needed him most. Age has not dulled his intensity or competitive spirit either.
But for the US side to get to the next level of international soccer excellence, Donovan may be left behind. Right now, the team is good — perhaps a top 25 squad. FIFA currently ranks the US 14th in the world, but that’s due almost entirely to the Yank’s qualifying victories over teams like Jamaica and Panama. France, which is ranked 17th, is a more talented side than the US but plays in a much tougher qualifying group.
The US has a long way to go to become an elite team. It’s what Klinsman has been hired to do and sentimentality is not likely to affect his judgment. The coach is keeping his roster choices close to his vest and probably won’t name a final squad until close to the FIFA deadline of June 2.
The U.S. plays Azerbaijan in San Francisco on May 27 before heading east to face Turkey on June 1 in Harrison, N.J. Donovan will have to show Klinsman that he can still be an asset to the team, even coming off the bench.
Given his stellar career, don’t count him out.
While the NCAA men Final Four teams await their trial by fire set for Saturday, the women are preparing for Sunday games that feature two unbeaten squads, along with two traditional women’s powerhouses.
The first game on Sunday will see unbeaten Connecticut against the Stanford Cardinal while the late game has undefeated Notre Dame against Maryland. UConn took care of 3 seed Texas A&M 69-54 to earn the trip to Nashville while Stanford handled North Carolina 74-65. The two teams played early in the season with UConn winning handily 76-57. The Lady Huskies will be making their 7th trip to the Final Four in a row. They’ll be going for their 9th national title while Stanford has won it all twice.
In 2010, Stanford ended UConn’s 90 game winning streak with a 71-59 victory. Their All-American, Chiney Ogwumike was a freshman on that squad and after suffering some health set-backs during the year, is now fit and in fighting trim. UConn will have all they can handle trying to contain Ogwumike who is expected to be the number one choice in the WNBA draft.
Noel Sheppard, prominent conservative media critic and one of the founding contributors and editors at Newsbusters, died of cancer March 28. He was 53 years old.
Newsbusters publisher Brent Bozell posted a short, elegant tribute to his friend and colleague:
Our Noel Sheppard passed away yesterday (Friday) morning at about 5:00 AM. Say a prayer for the soul of a man we’ll all miss professionally, and many, many of us will miss personally as well. Noel was not just a force of nature, he was a very good man.
How quickly this all happened. Just two months ago, Noel wrote about suddenly getting cancer at 53 called “Cancer’s Ray of Hope.” Nine days ago, he wrote us and said he was interested in writing about his “progress” — and he put “progress” in quotes. We were all wishing for better news, and really couldn’t imagine this was a battle that would end this way.
Noel joined us and was introduced to us by Matt Sheffield at the founding of NewsBusters in 2005, and he became our Associate Editor. It must be said that no blogger here was more prolific and more popular.
Matt Sheffield, one of Newsbusters’ founders, penned a tribute to Sheppard that describes why he will be missed so dearly:
Noel never intended to become a professional blogger once he began submitting pieces online. But just as America turned out to love reading blogs, Noel took to the new medium like a fish to water. Eventually, it became a full-time gig for him as he sold his financial planning business to pursue blogging full-time for us at NewsBusters as a mid-life career change.
It was a perfect combination. Noel loved attention and NewsBusters readers loved his work, making him by far the blog’s most popular writer. Very frequently, he single-handly brought in half of the site traffic each month.
In an earlier time, Noel would’ve been an ace reporter or well-known editor, such was his talent for spotting the hot story and writing about it in an engaging way. He also had the rare ability to make dry subjects interesting.
Sadly, Noel’s combination of brio, intelligence, and popular touch are all too rare in the conservative world. Noel and I spoke many times about the fact that too many conservatives and libertarians seem more interested in getting read by Republican congressional staffers than by millions of their fellow Americans. My upcoming book on the future of the American Right is inspired by many of these conversations. (For those interested in some of our preliminary thoughts on the topic, see this piece we published together in the American Spectator in 2012.)
Like everything he did, Noel threw himself into his career as a writer, literally blogging at least one post a day on NB before he fell ill to cancer and was admitted to the hospital in January. Weekend readers could always count on Noel to have something new and interesting for them to read.
Sheppard’s nose for news and his ability to distill the essence of a story into a few well written paragraphs that were enlightening as well as thought provoking is a rare combination. He will be missed at Newsbusters, but also around the right side of the internet.
If you’re a sports fanatic, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. The next fourteen days will see some of the best action, the best competition, and the most sublime events of the year.
1. The stretch run to the playoffs for pro hockey and pro basketball.
With fewer than 10 games to go in the National Hockey League season and less than a dozen National Basketball Association games left, teams are jockeying for playoff positioning and several are fighting for their playoff lives.
Both leagues play 82 games, which makes for too long a season for some. But these next two weeks will decide who keeps their championship dreams alive and who goes golfing.
Hockey has a new playoff format that includes several wild card teams that is supposed to make the process more fair. We’ll see. The top three teams in each of the 4 divisions automatically advance to the playoffs. The remaining 2 teams to make the playoffs from each conference will be determined by the best record regardless of division. As of today, there are 7 teams still with a shot of making one of the four wild cards.
The NBA still maintains its format of the top 8 from each conference going to the playoffs. In the West, there’s a ferocious battle for the final spots with 4 teams within two games of 6th place. In the East, the battle is for 3rd place and home court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. Three teams are within 2 games of each other.
Teams from both sports are ratcheting up the intensity. For many, the playoffs have already started.
2. Opening Day of the baseball season
Technically, the season opened last week in Australia where the Los Angeles Dodgers played two games with the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the “official” opening day is Monday with most teams in action.
I’m old enough to remember Opening Day being the one day of the year that the Sisters of Mercy largely turned a blind eye to the transistor radios hidden in our desks and let us update the class every once and a while. But even though baseball has lost its luster as our national pastime, there is a feeling associated with Opening Day that isn’t duplicated any other day of the year.
Hope, anticipation, a sense of rebirth — if you live in the Midwest, Opening Day is confirmation that the long, brutal winter is ending and spring has arrived (if not temperature-wise). It doesn’t get any better than this.
3. The Final Four
After an exciting weekend of Regional Finals, the survivors will play on Saturday night with the winners advancing to Monday’s championship game. The match-ups are intriguing. Top ranked Florida will play Connecticut in the first game, and the Gators are already 6 point favorites — a heavy spread for a Final Four game. Meanwhile, Kentucky is a 2 point favorite over Michigan in the late game. This is no doubt a reflection of how well Coach John Calipari has those Wildcats playing.
UConn appears to my eyes to be outmanned, but the history of the Final Four is replete with Davids slaying Goliaths. The Huskies have had a great run, starting as a 7th seed, they should definitely not be counted out.
The Kentucky-Wisconsin match-up should be a war with two big, tough frontcourts going at it. The Wildcat’s young bigs are athletic and can score at will, while the Badger’s Frank Kaminsky is a beast underneath. I hope the refs let them play and not call a bunch of ticky-tack fouls.
I see an all-SEC final with Florida winning a close one over Kentucky.
4. The Masters golf tournament
There are tougher courses in the world, but none more beautiful — especially this time of year. Bobby Jones’ masterpiece, Augusta National, has bedeviled, befuddled, and driven players crazy since it opened in 1933. The postage stamp greens are cut so short it’s like putting on your garage floor. The beautiful dogwoods, magnolias, and azaleas, are exploding in all their spring colors. The hillside behind #12 appears cartoonish in the splash of its many-hued plants and bushes. It’s worth watching on your big screen just to enjoy nature’s beauty.
Golfers don’t have the chance to do that, however. They’re too busy trying to navigate the 7245 yards of treacherous real estate designed to make them weep. The undulating greens make approach shots absolutely key. Where the ball lands on the green spells the difference between birdie and bogey.
It’s a tournament that’s usually competitive with the top golfers vying for the Green Jacket. There are richer tournaments. There are harder courses. But there’s only one Masters Tournament and it will be played April 10-13.
If this ruling is allowed to stand — and remember, this is Barack Obama’s NLRB — it will radically alter the face, the finances, and the reality of college sports.
But there are a lot of headwinds to navigate — including the fact that the national NLRB has to weigh in on the matter — so the odds are not good the players will win out in the end.
Basically, the Northwestern University football players were claiming that they should be designated “employees” while the school and the NCAA claim they are “students.” If they are employees, they should be able to unionize. And that’s just what regional NLRB director Peter Sung Ohr ruled.
The “employee” distinction is a landmark one because it contradicts the NCAA’s longtime stance that athletes are students and amateur athletes, and should not be compensated beyond their scholarships. The NCAA could not immediately be reached for comment.
“I have found that all grant-in-aid scholarship players for the Employer’s football team who have not exhausted their playing eligibility are ‘employees,’” wrote National Labor Relations Board regional director Peter Sung Ohr in a 24-page decision released Wednesday.
The College Athlete Players Association filed the petition on behalf of Northwestern athletes, identified in the ruling as “a labor organization.”
Northwestern plans to appeal the decision to the NLRB’s national office in Washington by the April 9 deadline, school officials said.
In a statement, NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy said: “We strongly disagree with the notion that student-athletes are employees. We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid.”
Remy’s statement also said that NCAA member colleges and universities have evaluated the association’s amateurism rules in recent years and that improvements need to be made, but that “we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college.”
Alan K. Cubbage, Northwestern vice president for university relations, issued a statement about the decision: “Northwestern University is disappointed by today’s ruling by the regional director of the National Labor Relations Board finding that Northwestern University’s football players who receive grant-in-aid scholarships are employees and directing that a secret ballot election be held to determine whether the football players should be represented by the College Athletes Players Association for purposes of collective bargaining with Northwestern University.”
Cubbage’s statement went on to say, “While we respect the NLRB process and the regional director’s opinion, we disagree with it. Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.”
One assumes that the reason the players wish to unionize is to end the fiction that players don’t get “paid” to play sports. In addition to a $100,000 a year college education, most players get other “goodies” allowed by the NCAA’s wildly complex and byzantine eligibility rules. With the ability to unionize, will the players want a cut of TV contracts? If a coach can get a couple of million dollars, why can’t players get their cut?
The USCs, Notre Dames, and Alabamas whose athletic programs actually make money for the university are few and far between. It doesn’t make sense for a college players union in any sport to lobby for cash benefits. For the vast majority of schools, the money simply isn’t there. On the other hand, if the players want to unionize in order to lobby for better health benefits or improved working conditions (better training facilities, study halls, etc.), that might be more realistic.
Colleges serve as the minor leagues for both professional football and basketball (less so for baseball). Scholarship athletes pointing toward a pro career use the university athletic system as a way station on their path to professionalism. Most schools don’t require athletes to expend much brainpower during their stay, although there are notable exceptions. So what is the philosophical basis for this union? The athletes get a free education at an elite school, all their needs attended to, help with their studies, and the adulation and glory that go with college sports. What’s missing here? I don’t see it, and it may be that the national NLRB won’t see it either.
And what of those scholarship athletes — the vast majority of them — who will never realize their dreams of playing pro ball? Or other scholarship athletes in sports like women’s field hockey or swimming where there are no professional opportunities at all? Unionizing college athletes sounds like the “hip” thing to do, but on a practical basis, there’s no rational basis for one.
OK — so I get outlawing the sack dance, even though it was wildly entertaining to see Junior Seau lord it over an opponent or a prostrate QB. And taunting had to go simply because it too often led to fights.
But putting the kibosh on end zone celebrations has never made any sense to me. What’s wrong with the offense lining up after a TD and doing a little dance? Or T.O pulling a sharpie out of his sock and signing the football?
Both of those celebratory gestures are now illegal. Most of these “Top 10 Touchdown Celebrations” are too.
Now the NFL wants to ban the iconic “dunk” over the crossbar of the goal posts. And the reason they give for it is stupid:
Not only is the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham redefining the tight end position, but he has also inspired an NFL rule change. According to the league’s vice president of officiating, players will no longer be allowed to dunk the ball over the goalpost after touchdowns.
Dean Blandino confirmed the rule change during a radio interview with “The Dan Patrick Show” on Tuesday. He said dunking the ball over the crossbar will now be considered a foul along with other touchdown celebrations that involve props.
Previously, dunks were grandfathered in as a legal celebration, along with the Lambeau Leap.
“We grandfathered in some, the Lambeau Leap and things like that, but dunking will come out,” Blandino said, according to NFL.com. “Using the ball as a prop or any object as a prop, whether that’s the goalpost, the crossbar, that will come out and that will be a foul next season.”
Graham is clearly the main inspiration for the rule. Twice in his career, his celebratory dunks have knocked the uprights off balance. Last season in Atlanta, a Thursday night game had to be delayed while workers releveled the crossbar.
And no player in the NFL will be more affected by the rule change than Graham, who has caught more touchdown passes over the past three seasons (36) than anyone else in the league. A former basketball player at the University of Miami, the 6-foot-7 Graham has made the goalpost dunk his trademark celebration.
Graham responded to the news in a tweet Tuesday afternoon.
I guess I’ll have to lead the @nfl in penalties next year! #funpolice pic.twitter.com/MQRFXgvaGN
If you can’t use the ball as a prop, why can you spike it? How can a stationary crossbar be a prop? The crossbar is part of the field. It doesn’t make any sense.
If the NFL had their druthers, they’d probably want the guy scoring the touchdown to hand the ball to the ref and then go over to the opposing bench and beg forgiveness for torching their free safety. So many of these rules against celebrations are put in because it supposedly angers the opponent. I say let ‘em stew. Football ain’t tiddlywinks and if you get your butt beat or you miss a tackle, the least of your punishment should be witnessing an ecstatic, choreographed celebration in the endzone. Your real ordeal will happen on Tuesday at film study when the coach rips into you for your mistakes.
If the league continues to constrain the natural inclination of players to celebrate a touchdown, pretty soon, NFL will stand for the “No Fan League.”
Now that everyone’s bracket is totally busted (you really didn’t think you were going to walk away with Buffet’s Billion, did you?), we can get down to the serious business of handicapping the 16 teams left in the NCAA tourney field and pick some favorites for the Final Four.
Three of the four number one seeds survived the first weekend. The only top seed to fall — Wichita — may be a harbinger of things to come. Kentucky’s two point win over the Shockers in the second round gave notice to the rest of the field that the Wildcats are in it to win it. Seeded 8 when the tournament began, Kentucky has benefited the first two games from a surprisingly tough defense and the emergence of frosh forward Julius Randle who ended up with double-doubles in both weekend games. The Cats seem to be coming together at exactly the right moment and Coach John Calipari has his squad playing like they’re on a mission.
The other three number ones to win through — Florida, Arizona, and Virginia — had some anxious moments against the lower seeds, but made it to the third round with minimal trouble. All three teams will play #4 seeds with upset potential written all over those games. 4 Michigan State will take on Virginia on Friday night, and if you want an upset special for next weekend, that game may be it.
The best third round game is likely to be on Thursday night when two of the Cinderella teams of the tournament clash for a chance to keep the dream alive. In the South Regional, 10 Stanford vs. 11 Dayton will play for a trip to the Elite Eight and a chance to play the winner of the 1 Florida vs. 4 UCLA contest. Dayton did not overwhelm in its two upset victories over 6 Ohio State and 3 Syracuse. But the Flyers proved to be a pesky bunch and managed to hold off their higher ranked opponents in the final minutes of both games. Stanford has been even more surprising. After getting into the tournament by advancing to the semis of the Pac-12 tourney, the Cardinal downed a very good New Mexico team and toughed out a 3 point win over a short handed Kansas squad. Both teams have demonstrated the poise and determination that should make Thursday’s contest a close, exciting game.
The other double-digit seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen is Tennessee. The 11 seeded Vols manhandled all three of their opponents the first weekend, including a win over Iowa in their play-in game, a comfortable 19 point victory over Massachusetts, and a 20 point win over little Mercer who toppled mighty Duke. For all the bad press the SEC got pre-tournament, 3 teams from the conference are in the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee will likely give 2 Michigan all they can handle on Friday night.
Perhaps the most intriguing third round game will take place in Indianapolis on Friday night. The Battle of Kentucky between 4 Louisville and 8 Kentucky will probably end up being a war. Two storied college basketball programs led by two probable Hall of Fame coaches. Kentucky’s John Calipari versus Louisville’s Rick Pitino in a game played just a hop, skip, and a jump from both campuses at 70,000 seat capacity Lucas Oil Stadium. Kentucky, as mentioned, is playing at the top of its game while defending champ Louisiville will not go quietly into that good night. Like an Alabama vs. Auburn football game, there will be civil war in the state until one side proves themselves the he-bull of the corral.
Take Clubber Lang’s word for what to expect: “Pain.”
The first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament is in full swing and so far, things are going about as expected. You have your blowouts (2 Wisconsin over 15 American U. 75-35), a good effort by a David team vs. a Goliath (16 Albany College sticking with 1 Florida eventually losing by only 12 points), and a couple of mild upsets with 5 Ohio State falling at the last second to 11 Dayton (which I predicted here) and 11 Harvard taking down 5 Cincinnati.
A few loose notes:
* Betting. Some good advice from ESPN Insiders Vegas (subscription only):
Florida is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gators are No. 1 in the AP writers’ poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll.
But they’re not No. 1 in the Vegas Rankings.
In fact, the top team from the combined power ratings of our panel of handicappers — Geoff Kulesa (“Wunderdog”) of wunderdogsports.com, Teddy “Covers” Sevransky and yours truly, Dave Tuley — isn’t one of the other No. 1 seeds, or a No. 2 seed or even a No. 3.
Our top-rated team is Louisville, the defending national champions who again look as though they’re peaking at the right time coming off their AAC title.
There’s a lot of support in Vegas for the Cardinals as the LVH SuperBook made them 15-1 when the brackets were announced Sunday afternoon, but by the end of the night they had been bet down to co-third choice on the futures board with Florida the favorite at 5-1, Michigan State (another No. 4 seed, interestingly enough) as the second choice at 5-1, and then Louisville and Arizona at 7-1. The LVH odds for all 68 NCAA teams are in the accompanying chart, along with their Vegas power ratings.
For the bettors, it’s all about “value” rather than who wins or loses — best bets to beat the point spread.
* Cal-Poly is the 24th team since 1955 to make the tournament with a losing record. The won their play in game last night against Texas Southern. Their joy is expected to be short lived. They play undefeated 1 Wichita State on Friday.
* 7 Oregon had a surprisingly easy time of it with 10 Brigham Young, winning by 19. The Ducks rode a 15-2 run late in the game to victory.
* The oddsmakers might like Louisiville, but the Cardinal’s coach Rick Pitino is a little worried about his first round match-up. 4 Louisville will be going up against 13 Manhattan College coached by a former Pitino assistant Steve Masiello.
Those two go way back:
Masiello served as a ball boy with the New York Knicks when Pitino was coach in the 1980s, played for him at Kentucky (1996-97) and then spent another six years coaching alongside him at Louisville (2005 to 2011). They know each other quite well, and Masiello is molding the Jaspers in the Cardinals’ image.
You can’t blame him. It’s like playing a game coached by your alter ego. The Cardinals are favored by 14.5 points.
* 2 Kansas won’t have star center Joel Embiid for the first two games of the tourney. The 7 footer, thought to be a high first round pick in the NBA draft if he leaves KU, is suffering from a stress fracture in his back.
Kansas opens the tourney against Eastern Kentucky and if they win on Friday, will face the winner of the Stanford-New Mexico game on Sunday.