Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Top 5 New York Sports Conquests

Lately (sans the most recent New York Giants Super Bowl victory), I have been appalled by the mediocrity that New York sports organizations churn out each and every year. The current edition of the New York Knicks are a laughingstock, even if they land Mike D'Antoni as head coach and Michael Beasley as the top pick in the NBA Draft. The Yankees have spent 1.6 billion dollars since their last championship (2000) and have yet to put together a winning campaign. The Rangers have put together solid rosters the past two seasons, only to be utterly embarrassed while getting knocked out in the second round of the playoffs each respective year (it just goes to show that goaltending, as evidenced through the splendid accolades of Henrik Lundqvist, only takes a team so far). Lately, I have reminisced over New York's better years, as observed in the following list (in each case, you'll see that the underdog tag goes a long way....)

5. 1970: The New York Knicks over the Los Angeles Lakers

Led by four eventual Hall of Famers--Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere (the 1972 edition of the Knicks would add two more to their lineup in Earl Monroe and Jerry Lucas)--the Knicks engineered a championship victory in seven games versus the Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain-led Los Angeles Lakers. Marv Albert was the voice behind the most inspiring moment ever recorded in Madison Square Garden history. Absent from the Knicks' Game 6 loss in L.A., Willis Reed, rendered useless in light of a torn muscle in his right leg, limped onto the court for warm-up drills prior to Game 7, the preeminent model of leading by example. Reed won the tip, scored two quick buckets, and, about halfway through the first quarter, was taken out for the rest of the game. Lost in the heroics was Frazier's MVP performance, in which 'Clyde' was able to reel off 40 points in a convincing Knickerbocker win.

4. 1986: The New York 'Amazin' Mets over the Boston Red Sox

"Little roller up along first....BEHIND THE BAG! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight and the Mets WIN IT!" ~ Vin Scully's call of the closing moments of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

For every young pitching phenom that has risen to stardom since 1986, nobody finished with as much flair as Dwight Gooden, who put together two dominating seasons in 1984 and 1985 prior toward leading the Mets to a World Series championship in seven games against the Boston Red Sox in 1986. With 'Doc' Gooden as a template for the team's success, the ballclub was led by various scoundrels in the forms of Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Lenny Dykstra. Even so, the likes of Ray Knight and Mookie Wilson orchestrated the greatest late inning comeback the sport of baseball has ever seen, catapulting Bill Buckner into the realm of notoriety with his error on Mookie's groundball in the 10th inning of Game 6.

3. 1969: The New York Jets over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III

The city of New York wasted no time in raising a Super Bowl championship banner by winning in the showdown's third year of existence. The New York Jets, led by 'Broadway' Joe Namath's prowess and indelible guarantee, triumphed over Johnny Unitas's Baltimore Colts 16 - 7. The Jets' victory was the first of three championships won by New York in 1969-1970 seasons (Knicks over Lakers, Mets over Orioles being the others).

2. 1994: The New York Rangers over the Vancouver Canucks

The Rangers exorcised 50 years of playoff futility by taking home Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1994. The team was masterfully coached by Mike Keenan (the NHL’s reincarnation of Larry Brown), fortified in goal by the incredible athleticism of Mike Richter, and piloted by Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, and Mark Messier, who was able to get out of Wayne Gretzky’s shadow to lead a team of his own to victory (for years, Messier was merely a remarkable role player behind the Edmonton Oilers’ success in the 1980’s, playing second fiddle to Gretzky all those years). Messier had a Namath-esque guarantee of his own, scoring a natural hat trick in the third period of a Game 6 Eastern Conference finals match-up against the New Jersey Devils to force a seventh game, won off the stick of Stephane Matteau in another dramatic overtime victory.

1. 2008: The New York Giants over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII

18 victories, 1 Giant Loss. This became the slogan of an unlikely champion, a team led by quarterback Eli Manning, who had no business beating a Pro Bowl collection of quarterbacks (Tony Romo, Brett Favre, and Tom Brady) on his way to devising the greatest fourth quarter comeback in NFL championship game history. The G-Men’s collection of 8 sacks on Tom Brady. Manning’s evasion of three potential sacks on one play. David Tyree’s helmet-catch. Each moment has been replayed over and again, much to the delight of countless Giant fans who watched as their team won an NFL-record 11 road games en route to their Super Bowl victory. And it all happened against a juggernaut only one game away from perfection.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Meaning Behind the Name

The video listed above should clear up any and all questions about the name with which I have adorned this blog. Although I am not a Met fan, I concur that the Amazin's deserve their place in sports folklore. The 1986 World Series exemplifies everything good you need to know about sports: as Yogi Berra once quipped, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Obama the Sportsman

Credit James Bedell of PolicyThought for this intriguing find on Barack. Obama, using his passion for pick-up basketball as a focal piece to this segment, has instilled quiet dignity and grace into his campaign, going so far as to display his basketball skills for the American public to see. Under the tutelage of one of his many advisors, Obama set up national 3-on-3 basketball tournaments (most notably in New Hampshire) to collect voters and instill awareness of his campaign to the many who took the Senator up on the opportunity compete. Vested at the heart of Obama's campaign is the true American spirit, an entity that rabidly feeds off competition and the sports realm. May this awareness and a propensity to bounce back from the PA primary defeat carry him through Indiana and North Carolina in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Everyman Barack Obama

Sports Illustrated journalist S.L. White conveyed a refreshing take on Barack Obama, a man about sports, a man about relations, a man about change. In the vignette, Obama took time off from his busy campaign trail to engage in a game of pick-up basketball with White, an intimate encounter that spoke volumes about Barack's character and potential leadership initiative.

For one, Obama did not (scratch that--would not) offer up any political posturing, nor would he impose the foundations of his campaign on White throughout the course of a rather intense hoops battle.

Furthermore, Barack's courtship with his current wife Michelle was as much a make-or-break deal as his bout in the Pennsylvania primaries. Ever the basketball fanatic, Michelle asked that her brother Craig Robinson challenge Barack to a game of basketball to determine his worth as a potential husband. Silly, you say? Michelle actually offered sound perspective on the whole ordeal: the etiquette and temperance displayed on-court might very well sum up a man's countenance and character. Now THAT'S a woman with knowledge about the male psyche: we are a truly competitive breed, whether it be about the game we are competing in or the game our team is playing in. In addition, it's how this said individual or squad goes about their competition: with arrogance or dignity? It appears as though Barack lived up to the latter.

As this article further evidenced, Obama is tireless in his efforts to succeed, and yet, he has taken the time to portray an ordinary, down-to-earth persona by taking part in a spirited contest of basketball. He has immense potential to bestow upon our nation viable insights on race relations that no leader before him ever has. He is a man about image, a man of quiet confidence, and a man of forgiveness; after all, Obama has treated the game of basketball, 'his first love,' as a gift, not the remembrance of an absent father. When it comes to values, I appreciate Barack's valiant attempts at conveying to us a remarkably sound candidate, even in spite of the obstacles thrust upon him (inexperience, preacher affiliation, questionable commentaries on voting demographics, etc.). 2009 will bring an era of change, and I wouldn't be put off at all if the sports-minded Barack Obama were the vanguard leading us through these exciting times.

Washington Baseball Economics

Upon Rick Reilly's exodus from Sports Illustrated, the magazine had no other choice but to change format. The last page featured in SI is aptly titled Point After, moderated by a committee of journalists that change from week-to-week. One particular submission by writer S.L. White commented on the buzz surrounding the construction of new ballparks.

An establishment like Yankee Stadium is fully being funded by Steinbrenner and Co., so Yankee fans can expect extravagance and aura at the stadium's inception in 2009. Nationals Park, on the other hand, was predominantly funded by the District of Columbia, as per Mayor Adrian Fenty. According to S.L. Price, 'the civic burden for stadium construction [is] usually between 60% and 70%.' D.C., contrarily, opted to foot 97% of the total bill for the Washington Nationals' new stadium. Do the math: 0.97 X 647,000,000 = 627,590,00, as in dollars---in a city that bleeds for educational reform. Logistically, should a legislation (a) care more about getting fans out to the ballgame or (b) care more about diminishing violence and aiding the sorry state of education across the D.C. landscape?
Have a look at the other statistics that S.L. White compiled: the nation's capital has a 37% adult illiteracy rate and a high school graduation rate of 59%; of those that graduate, only 9% go on to graduate college within five years. That is a sad state of affairs.
Understand this: the vast majority of the nearly $630 million pumped into Nationals Park may never be seen by the city again, seeing as the Nationals' revenue, for the most part, goes back into funding the team's operations, NOT the city's operations. Sure, ballparks do plenty to beautify an urban landscape and offer entertainment value for city denizens (white-collar citizens, that is)....but will Nationals Park ever boost the city's economy, as Mayor Fenty desperately hopes for? Chances are, no. The spend-more, get-more mentality will do nothing for the betterment of D.C.'s illiteracy issue. Furthermore, the stadium will provide another tourist attraction amongst the many in Washington already, but that's about it. As the new ballpark opens, three branch libraries in the city have closed down and some will not receive necessary renovations until 2010 at the very least. And let's not even discuss the traffic the new ballpark will produce, not to mention the spike in ticket prices the working class, metro-Washington's majority, will never even be able to afford. (And that's a bigger problem pro sports needs to tackle: the most passionate fans looking to go to the ballpark ARE the working class, the ones who comprise the 4 million fan figure the Yankee organization has seen several years running. What happens when this fan dynamic vanishes?).
Here's a novel idea: ballpark revenue going back to the city. The city deserves a large(r) cut of the money a team makes for Fenty's 97% payoff to make sense. And the cut should come with a stipulation: the money absolutely must go back to civic services like law enforcement, education, and cost-effective, environmentally sound public transportation. Beautifying a landscape with an amenities-laden ballpark without any hope of financial return is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Apple Doesn't Fall Too Far from the Tree

The Stein lives on! As an earlier posting suggested, the Steinbrenner legacy continues to defile the Yankee tradition, right to its very core. So as to establish George's character and further bring light to the ways of the old Stein regime, here are two anecdotes to emphasize what we as Yankee fans have all grown accustomed to.

Circa 1973. Having made some serious bank in U.S. Steel and Kinsman Shipping, George leads a team of investors in the pursuit of purchasing the New York Yankees (he does so for $10 million--the team's value in 2007 had since skyrocketed to $1.5 billion, so you have to commend his financially savvy ways). While present at one of his first games in the press box, a Yankee is on third and crosses the plate in the midst of a ground-out...after the third out has already been recorded. George applauds the 'feat.' A member of the organization had to enlighten George, calling to attention that the run would not count. The moment served as testament to a piss-poor baseball quotient.

Circa 1977. 'Sweet' Lou Piniella is called into Steinbrenner's office to discuss the disheveled hair-do Piniella let fester during spring training. Piniella gripes, claiming that if a gentleman like Jesus Christ was able to shag out his hair, why couldn't he? At this, George took Lou by the arm and led him across the street, to a hotel with an outdoor pool. "Lou," Steinbrenner began, "if you can prove to me that you can walk on water, you can keep the haircut." Point emphatically made. Lou abided by the infamous grooming demand and cut his hair. As this moment proves, not even Piniella's moxie could compete with Steinbrenner's.

Spring forward to today. Hank 'The Tank' Steinbrenner, even without George in the picture, has channeled his father, spewing ludicrous insights that the New York Times posted in Monday's sports edition.

In light of the Yankees' sputtering start (by the way, with a week and a half left in April, the team has already surpassed its win total from April of last year), Steinbrenner had plenty to say. "If I were part of the personnel decisions last year," Hank chortled, "there was no way Joba [Chamberlain] would be in the set-up role. You'd have to be an idiot to not start a guy who can throw 100 MPH. An idiot." (Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman must appreciate that vote of confidence). He then proposed what a possible starting rotation would be if Joba were a part of it: Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte, Ian Kennedy, and Chamberlain. Seemingly missing from the list was Mike Mussina. This is where the flaming commenced. "Now, if only Moose could begin to pitch like [45 year old] Jamie Moyer, our rotation would be in good shape." (Nobody put a gun to your head when 'your' organization opted to pick up that multi-million dollar option on Moose, did they Hanker?).

For argument's sake, let's dissect Moyer's stint in the past five years, along with Mussina's:

Mussina: 68 - 42, 4.21 ERA, 906 IP's, 732 K's, 1.27 WHIP, .277 BAA (including a 2007 when he reached career highs in ERA and BAA, and career lows in K's and IP's)

Moyer: 66 - 53, 4.40 ERA, 1027 IP's, 597 K's, 1.33 WHIP, .277 BAA

As one might observe, the stat-lines are parallels of each other, with Mussina edging out Moyer for his efficiency and K-capacity. But consider: Mussina is the only pitching acquisition that has panned out for the Yanks in the last nine years, especially when you put Moose up against the likes of Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver, Jon Lieber, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, and the 2007 version of Roger Clemens. Mussina's tenure with the Yankees cannot be overlooked, even if he has been inconsistent the past year and a half. As for 2008: take away Mussina's at-bats against Manny Ramirez this year (especially last Saturday's contest at Fenway, when Moose should have intentionally walked Manny with 1st base open and two outs in the 6th), and Moose doesn't look nearly as shabby as his rotation counterparts.

Hands down: Joba Chamberlain is a special talent, a pitching phenom the Yankees haven't seen since, well, Mariano Rivera. The questions Hank needs to ask himself: will Joba's 100 MPH and four-pitch arsenal (hardly Santana-esque, just yet) translate to winning games every fifth day? Will Joba's starts be good enough to make up for what LaTroy Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworth will offer in the 8th inning? Is sending Joba down to Triple A for a period of at least a month be worth it when the Yankees (1) have nobody to relieve in the 8th and (2) Jeff Karstens/Kei Igawa/Darrell Rasner are forced to spot-start every now and again until Joba returns to the big club? Any person with an iota of baseball knowledge would answer 'no' to each inquiry, especially when you consider that the Joba and Mo's prowess shortens the game to 7 innings practically EVERY time they pitch together. The only team that can come close to such dominance is the Chicago Cubs, with Carlos Marmol working the 8th and Kerry Wood working the 9th (that is, if Wood stays healthy for more than three weeks). From what baseball man to another, Hank: do not, I repeat, DO NOT consider Joba's potential as a starter; allow him to dominate the 8th and work steadily towards becoming Mariano's replacement. After all, how many World Series has Rivera helped deliver?

As if Hank's comments on Monday weren't enough, young Stein has openly put a bounty on Gino Castignoli's head for burying a David Ortiz jersey beneath the construction of the new Yankee Stadium: "I hope his co-workers beat the living s#*& out of him." It appears as though the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree: Hank has proven he can bully with the best of them, which, for this Yankee fan, is arduous to swallow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That's Music to My Ears!

Straight from the Vault....

Scouring YouTube has been my latest obsession, a practice that led me to this superbly classic nugget: the NBA on NBC theme song, composed by your boy John Tesh. During the 1990's, NBA coverage on NBC resulted in a ratings spike that shattered the substantial viewership prevalent during the Bird/Magic era. A musical score like this, heard blaring from television sets on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, was enough to get you hyped for every single broadcast. In addition, hearing the voices of Marv Albert and Bob Costas was an absolute treat to NBA aficionados both young and old (that was, until Brother Albert went postal on the back of some chick's neck, dressed to the nines in feminine apparel).

How About That?

The following search is courtesy of YouTube once again: stepping to the plate, This Week in Baseball, accentuated by the opening theme Jet Set and the accompanying Gathering Crowds, which ran during the closing credits. Talk about inspiring sports programming! No sports coverage is complete without a riveting musical accompaniment of its own. Enjoy these finds at your leisure!