A long stretch of futility ends...

After 128 years of trying, Middlesbrough Football Club has won a major trophy, beating Bolton Wanderers 2-1 in the final of the League Cup.

-- For one thing, I think Cubs and Red Sox fans should stop bitching...128 years is a long, LOOOOOOONG time. It's, what...30-something more than the Red Sox are on at the moment?

-- Can we all agree that Bolton manager Sam Allardyce is a whining putz, now? Mini-Ferguson, in a way...great manager, does a lot with veru little, but good god does he whine like a spoiled brat (or a certain knighted manager of some other club) when things don't go his way. Someone get him his pacifier already.

-- I didn't see it, but it sounded like the game was pretty amateurish, especially in the first half. I hate to be a party-pooper what with a major curse being lifted and all, but should this REALLY qualify as a major competition?

-- And, would it be churlish to mention that Boro wouldn't have made the final if Arsenal hadn't played a team of mostly kids throughout the entire tournament?



Thanks to the replay on YES, I finally got to see at least a quarter of a Philadelphia Wings game for the first time all season. It's bad enough that they came in 4-4, but to take THAT many stupid penalties against a team you're chasing in the division....Toronto won 18-15, of course. Wonderful. That brings Toronto to 4-4, so I think it's fair to say that tomorrow's half of the home-and-home is a MUST WIN for Philadelphia.



The Canadiens -- Here's how it stands...

As it stands, I think we're only going to get 7th, 8th or...if everything goes wrong, 9th. After their demolition job on the Sabres, the Devils (in 6th place) are 8 points clear with two games in hand. The way they're playing now, even our best hockey won't get us to 6th place (which is fine...I'd like to avoid Tampa Bay if at all possible).

We're on 70 points, the Islanders have 69 (with 2 games in hand). Buffalo has 1 game in hand, but are 7 points behind us, and Florida has also played 64 games, and are 8 points behind us. Behind them, I'd have to say that Atlanta (64 G, 56 pts) and the hapless Rangers (62 G, 55 pts) as well as Carolina (same as the Rangers) are done. D-O-N-E.

This is our schedule for the rest of our year:

Boston (A)
Carolina (H)
New Jersey (H)
San Jose (A)
Phoenix (A)
Los Angeles (A)
Anaheim (A)
Florida (H)
Toronto (H)
Colorado (H)
New Jersey (A)
New Jersey (H)
Buffalo (A)
Ottawa (H)
Boston (A)
NY Islanders (A)
Philadelphia (H)
Buffalo (H)

Errr......yikes. That sure is a bunch of tough away games, as well as games against teams way over .500. That's not exactly the schedule I'd have liked heading into the home stretch, but the Ottawa win gives me hope that if we can take a few points off of Jersey, Colorado, and Toronto, then we'll be in good shape for 7th if we beat the teams we HAVE to beat (Islanders, Buffalo, Phoenix, Florida).

For the Islanders:

Rangers (H)
Buffalo (A)
Pittsburgh (H)
Pittsburgh (A)
Toronto (A)
St. Louis (H)
St. Louis (A)
San Jose (A)
Anaheim (A)
Tampa Bay (A)
Florida (A)
Minnesota (H)
Tampa Bay (H)
Washington (H)
Philadelphia (A)
Carolina (H)
New Jersey (A)
Montreal (H)
Carolina (A)
Philadelphia (H)

To me, this seems like a much easier schedule...however, I don't know if I buy Rick DiPietro yet...especially in a playoff chase. There's also hope that they'll fall victim to the "new broom" situation in St. Louis, and hopefully they'll fall flat on their faces during that long road trip. I worry, however, about all those games against the Southeast Division...most of those teams are shite, and Tampa Bay might be taking it easy by then...they'll have the No. 3 seed locked up soon, I believe. We'll also have to hope that Philly can do us a few favors, too.

Finally, our last serious competition, the Buffalo Sabres:

NY Islanders (H)
Ottawa (A)
Ottawa (H)
Toronto (A)
St. Louis (H)
Washington (A)
Boston (H)
Boston (A)
Toronto (H)
Atlanta (A)
Tampa Bay (A)
Florida (A)
Montreal (H)
Pittsburgh (H)
Pittsburgh (A)
Columbus (H)
NY Rangers (A)
Toronto (H)
Montreal (A)

This is a case where we'll probably have to help our own cause...dropping those teo games against this team could cost us the season. Also, Toronto can REALLY help us by taking at 4 or 5 points off the Sabres in those 3 games. Boston and Ottawa can too, for that matter, by taking 3 points off them in their 2-game series. Besides that, we'll have to see how the Sabres do against a whole crapload of teams that they really should beat.

Looking at the schedules, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Sabres eke out 7th place, we finish in 8th, and the Islanders end up in 9th, but only by a point or two. With the games we have coming up, though, we may be lucky to make the playoffs at all. GO HABS GO!

Now this is just fucking stupid...


If anything, the timing of the thing is what interests me the most. I could understand an outside writing a doom-and-gloom Canadiens column after the 5-4 loss to the Maple Leaves, but after two straight wins in which they played their worst hockey and beat New York, then played their best hockey to beat Ottawa?

Dear writer guy: Teams have up-and-down swings throughout the course of a season. To say that the sky is falling after a bad run is just as inane as guaranteeing a Stanley Cup when you've won 3 in a row. Now, I know you have to fill your column inches, but believe me, it makes you look like a jackass when you villify Theodore after he's had two fantastic games in a row. And, he's supposed to do what else more, exactly?

By the way, Theodore's stats for the season are 24-23-5, 2.19, .922. To ask for anything more behind the defense that he's had at many points this season is lunacy...Martin Brodeur would probably have similar numbers (why is it that nobody mentions that Brodeur usually faces 14 or 16 shots a game? Don't get me wrong, he's one of the best goalies to ever come down the pipe, but he's not having to stave off 35 a night either). To wit, Theodore has faced 1457 shots so far this season, (in 53 games, averaging about 28 a game) while Brodeur has faced 1366 (in 56 games, averaging about 24 a game). Actually, while I'm on the subject, Brodeur's save percentage is .917...so if Theodore is a liability because he's in the 920s, what does that make Brodeur?

Yet again, it's a case of a columnist trying to cram round facts into a square hole for the purposes of a column where the idea was predetermined from the start. I know...I did it too when I was in college.

I hate sharing my computer...

...so, while waiting eight hours for Patrick to finish playing Diablo, some thoughts on all the various shite I watched:

-- Actually, one thing I followed via MatchTracker earlier in the day: Celta Vigo 2-3 Arsenal. Up a goal, with three away goals in the bank, against a side that is nowhere near as good as they were last season. Works for me. It's also nice to see other people scoring besides Henry...this is a fabulous run we're on, but if we want to avoid a repeat of last season, we have to have other options whenever the other team DOES manage to mark TH14 out of the game. I was impressed with how the boys kept re-establishing dominance after Celta kept equalizing. Not only that, this is Arsenal's first-ever win on Spanish soil, so well done to them there. The 2nd leg at Highbury should be a walkover, especially against this lot. While I'm not saying we should start the same crew that played the 3rd round of the League Cup, I'd be very disappointed if we bowed out of the Champions League at this stage now. We're a better side than Celta by a long, long way, and I hope we thump them at home, actually...if only to send a message to the (likely much tougher) opponent we'll have in the quarterfinals.

-- I watched a bunch of wrestling from a tape my man One Bad Ash sent me. Lots of Yuji Nagata stuff is on there, which always works for me...he's technically proficient, he'll kick you right in the chest, and he yells a lot. He's also my favorite wrestler on the planet, currently. I liked Kobashi/Misawa 3/1/03, don't get me wrong, but I think they had already reached the overkill point on big head-dropping moves somewhere around the 13 or 15-minute mark. I'm starting to really prefer a slow-build style of match (the best NJPW stuff, the IWA-MS that Maestro Ken sent me, shite like that), and it was kind of a culture shock to see this kind of "special occasion mid-90s AJPW style" again. It's not that I mind, I love watching people get dropped at angles that no human should be able to survive, but I'd also like to not completely shatter the illusion of belivability either. Ohtani/Kojima in the Fire Festival finals was a SHITLOAD of fun, as was Doug Williams vs. Christopher Daniels from ROH. Liger/Ebessan was kind of a disappointment, though...I was expecting a match more of the kind where Ebessan would be pulling out all sorts of goofy shit to keep Liger off-guard, but it was really a traditional NJPW juniors match with one comedy spot thrown in. Oh, and the G-1 Climax stuff actually had me not hating Hiroyoshi Tenzan...I'd go so far as to say he's improved by a LOT since 2001 or so.

-- I was impressed with how well the Knicks played against Sacramento for three quarters out there in the Arco Arena. Both teams were shooting the lights out early, then it calmed down a tad around the 3rd quarter or so. Tim Thomas in particular was excellent for the first 75% of the contest, and I was really impressed with that Mohammed guy working down low in the post for the Knicks...he rebounded well and was actually somewhat of a presence down there. But, the Kings came out in the 4th quarter like a baseball pitcher whose 90th pitch has more velocity than the 1st, and the Knicks just ran out of answers (I think they ran out of gas, too...trying to keep up with the Kings on their own floor can't be easy). Shaddax has been telling me that Vlade Divac is a wonderful player, but I only realized tonight just how important he is for that team...he's almost like a point guard stationed at the top of the key...everything goes through him, and he really has a deceptively-soft touch on his passing. He can get it out to Bibby or Stojakovic (who also was brilliant tonight) for open threes, or they can kick it back in to him on the inside for easy buckets that way. He also seems to get the big rebounds when they need them. Still, I don't think the Knicks have much to be ashamed of here...they would have annhilated 90% of the league tonight.

-- Next was a documentary on the Independent Film Channel called "Go Tigers!", an inside look at the 1999 season of Massillion, Ohio's high school football team. I kind of expect this shite from Texans, but I had no idea that the Massillion-McKinley rivalry reached the same ridiculous lows (even after reading about it in Sports Illustrated a few years back). Look, people getting crazy about professional sports is one thing -- it's been ingrained in our culture since at least the late 1800s, and they're adults paid to do a job. However, dumping the pressure and expectation of an entire town onto the shoulders of 16-year old kids is sick, sadistic, and representative of just how pathetic said town is as a whole. Here's a wacky idea, friends and neighbors -- stop living vicariously through kids who have barely figured out how to jerk off, and go out and do something productive with YOUR life. Good goddamn.

-- Oh, before that, I caught the end of the Bruins-Islanders game. I would have wanted a win for Boston (as much as it pains me to say it), but 1 point for the Isles is better than 2, in my book. Rick DiPietro, despite the fact that I usually tend to think that he's more than a bit shit, had himself a fantastic game in between the pipes for the Isles. Actually, Felix Potvin did as well for the Bruins, which leads me to believe that the B's have to be thinking of seeing what they can get for him before the trade deadline. Then again, Boston had ANOTHER dynamic rookie goalie who took the world by storm...for one season, before promptly disappearing into mediocrity, and eventually out of the game altogether (it wasn't that long ago, either)...guy by the name of Jim "The Net Detective" Carey. Remember him? I'm sure Boston does, so they may want to keep Potvin around...at least you know what you're getting with him.

-- I didn't see it, but the Canadiens hung tough and got a fine 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators to put some breathing room between us and the Sabres (and keeping us ahead of the Islanders for the moment...although both them and the Sabres have games in hand). Apparently, our power play was clicking, Theodore had another good game, and for once, it was us scoring with seconds left in the game to ice a victory. May this streak continue, gentlemen...you're doing great.

-- Next, I saw the Tyne-Tees derby between Newcastle United and Middlesbrough. Boro's goal was well-struck by Boudewijn Zenden, capping off a very nice individual move. But, Newcastle are a scrappy bunch, and they have their sights set on that last Champions' League place. Also, they seem to have a talent for bundling in garbage goals, Craig Bellamy's effort for example. As for the penalty, I thought it was pretty clear-cut...Southgate clearly impeded the progress of the attacker, and bundled him over in the area. I normally dislike penalty calls late in a tie game, but this was a case of a clear scoring opportunity being illegally denied by the defender, so referee Graham Poll (who I think had an outstanding game, in particular keeping tempers cooled and the game from getting ugly) had to call the penalty. You know that 99 times out of a 100, Alan Shearer isn't going to miss, and indeed, he didn't. However, I felt horrible for Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer...the guy has a gigantic wingspan, and although he guessed right, he *just* did miss getting a palm on Shearer's penalty.

-- Finally, the US women's volleyball team qualified for the Olympics in Athens by finishing 3rd place in the Women's Volleyball World Cup. Good for them, I say...they probably should have beat Poland, and it was sad seeing them lose it in the end against the very tough Chinese team, but they did very well against all the other teams they were supposed to beat, and in particular, they did extremely well to sweep defending champion Italy in 3 sets. Good work, ladies.

Now, it's 6:30 in the AM, and I'm going to SLEEP.



If you want an interesting experience, go see a hockey game at Madison Square Garden these days. It has gotten even uglier than it was in the final days of the Ron Low reign, and by a long way at that.

It's interesting to see what happens when a franchise has cocked things up so bad, has taken advantage of their fans for so long...here's some examples.

-- Booing the team when the come out for the first period.

-- Chants of "Fire Sather!" 30 seconds into the game.

-- Sarcastic cheers when the team gets past mid-ice, and then again when Mike Dunham made a save.

-- Chants of "We Suck!" towards the end.

-- People cheering for the Canadiens at times.

But, even more interesting was the reaction to the Rangers' one goal -- a weird kind of super-jubiliation, borne of the fact that there seemed, even then, a way back into the game (and back into this most hopeless of seasons for them).

I can't say I blame them. This was the worst hockey the Habs played all year (16 minutes without a shot on goal in the 2nd period), and we still won 4-1. Diz-zamn.


The 2004 San Francisco Giants: Look Out Below!

With pitchers and catchers shortly on their way to Arizona for spring training, I think it's time to really get into the baseball spirit hear at the place where souls are eaten. Of course, my San Francisco Giants have had an...interesting...preseason, so let's delve into it together, for good or for ill.

Last season, San Francisco ran away from the rest of the terrible NL West, finishing 100-61 (the missing game was a postponed tilt against the Mets that was never replayed). The Dodgers were the closest to them, 15.5 games out of first. Then, of course, we were undone in the playoffs by Sidney Ponson showing what a waste of money he was, and two costly errors by gold glovers J.T. Snow and Jose Cruz Jr. The good news is that the rest of our division is still sufficiently bad enough where another playoff run isn't out of the question. However, we have about as much chance of winning 100 games as I have of nailing Kirsten Dunst -- I'd LOVE to be proven wrong, but I'm not betting any limbs on it. Let's look at the current 2004 roster, position by position.

Starting Pitching:

Jason Schmidt is the undisputed ace, and as long as he stays somewhere near 2003 form (17-5, 2.34 ERA, 207 IP, 208 K, 46 BB, 183 ERA+, 5 CG, 3 SHO), and if he stays healthy, he'll be a priceless asset in our drive for an unlikely World Series berth. After that, however, is where I start to worry. I suppose the No. 2 by default would be 23-year old Jerome Williams, who was pretty good for only being a starter for part of the year (7-5, 3.30 ERA, 131 IP, 88 K, 49 BB, 130 ERA+, 2 CG, 1 SHO). I would imagine that he hasn't reached his full potential yet, but can he handle the pressure of being the No. 2 starter on a team whose fans are expecting at least another division title? Keep in mind, last season, he was the No. 4 starter on a team that was already running away with the division by the time he was firmly entrenched in the rotation. If I had to guess at gunpoint, I think he'll do all right...he wasn't so good in his one high-pressure playoff start (2 IP, 3 R, 5 H, 1 K, 1 BB), but with last season under his belt, he can at least be a more-than-servicable No. 3.

But, if you expect Williams to be the No. 3, that means Kirk Reuter has to be the No. 2, and excuse me if that doesn't leave me brimming over with confidence. After a string of seasons where his win total equalled 13, 16, 15, 11, 14, and 14, his 2003 numbers don't even paint the picture of "Perfectly Acceptable Southpaw" that most of us seem to think he is. To wit: (10-5, 4.53 ERA, 147 IP, 41 K, 47 BB, 95 ERA+, 0 CG, 0 SHO). Sure, some of that may have to do with the fact that he was injured part of the season, but let's face facts. He's 33 this season, he's coming off an ERA+ of 117 the season before, and is there any reason to believe that last season was just an anamoly? I'll even grant that it was -- we're not going to score enough runs for a junkballing guy like Reuter to be a dependable No. 2 starter. When he went 16-9 in 1998 (with an ERA+ of just 93), the Giants scored 845 runs. The next season, when he went 15-10 with a horrific ERA+ of 76, the team scored 872. I just don't see him returning to 2002 form, and would be much more comfortable with him in the No. 4 slot, or at least in that neighborhood. The Giants scored 755 last season, and as I'll get to later, aren't exactly candidates to score much more than that, if it isn't way less. Anyway, speaking of the No. 4 slot, that position is most likely claimed at the moment by Brett Tomko, and if Woody doesn't inspire confidence, "Bomb"ko inspires mostly dread (w/St. Louis: 13-9, 5.28 ERA, 202 IP, 114 K, 57 BB, 79 ERA+, 2 CG, 0 SHO). Umm...yeah. Also, another fun fact: in the last two years, Tomko has watched 66 of his pitches fly over the wall. While some of that may be cut down by Pac Bell's generous dimensions, that's not going to turn him into Curt Schilling or anything. Tomko's wins came, I believe, mostly on the strength of St. Louis' supercharged offense, which scored 876 runs last season. That's 120 more than us, and I honestly believe that correlates to a significant percentage of his wins. I'm no math wizard by any stretch, but just off the top of my head, I'd be willing to bet that Tomko would have been more like 8-12 if he had spent all season in San Fran last year. Actually, Shaddax pointed me in the direction or Baseball Prospectus (although I'm using basic sabermetric stuff like ERA+, I only understand the basic idea, and I wouldn't have a clue how to compute it, let alone what the deal is with some of the more advanced stuff...I mean, baseball's my third-favorite sport behind soccer and hockey either way), and according to their support-neutral W/L Report, Tomko was more like a 9-13 pitcher...the exact mirror image of what he ended up. Sigh...enough about him.

Assuming the rotation goes Schmidt - Williams/Reuter or Reuter/Wiliams - Tomko, that leaves Dustin Hermanson as one of the favorites for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. For a guy we picked up midseason originally for the bullpen (if memory serves), he didn't do TOO badly (2-1, 4.06 ERA, 39 IP, 39 K, 24 BB, 104+ ERA in 6 starts). Honestly, I'm not expecting much more than 100 ERA+ out of a No. 5 starter -- actually, I would consider a completely league-average No. 5 to be more than sufficient. I worry about the number of walks, though...24 in 39 innings is a red flag, as far as I'm concerned. Of course, 39 IP isn't the world's greatest sample size, so I suppose we'll have to wait and see with him. However, if he can't crack the rotation, and he walks batters at that same rate, then he really should get released or sent to AAA. The walks are bad enough from a starter, but you can't have relievers walking that many guys when they're usually in close games. He's either the No. 5 starter, the last guy out of the bullpen, or hopefully gone (again, assuming the same BB/9 rate). It's worth noting that he walked an additional 14 batters in 29 relief appearances for St. Louis, and he has a history of walking a lot of batters (69-75-73 in '99 - '01).

However, the Giants are certainly not trapped with that rotation -- there are definitely more options on our roster. For example, 23-year old Jesse Foppert had a halfway-decent stretch filling in for various injured parties during the year (8-9, 5.03 ERA, 111 IP, 69 BB, 101 K, 85 ERA+). It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at his walk totals (as well as 3 HBP and 12(!!!!!) wild pitches) to see that he has some major control issues. The potential is very obviously there, and an 8-win rookie season certainly isn't the worst that could have happened. However, he only enters the discussion for a spot in the rotation if he can cut down on that insanely-high walk total. Not to sound like a broken record, but unless about 100 runs fall from the heavens offensively, we can't have our pitchers walking a zillion guys a game. Another (albeit unlikely) option is Ryan Jensen, who only threw 13 innings last season. He went 13-8 in 2002, his only full season. But, he too walked a ton of guys (66), and his ERA (4.51), wasn't fantastic. He's also 27 already, so you have to wonder where the border is between "has a ton of potential" and "didn't pan out". I suppose he may be in the reckoning to make the roster if he has a fantastic spring training, but Foppert is a much better choice, you'd have to think, and I can't see him clawing past some of the middle relievers we have already. Finally, Kevin Correia may be an option too, at least during the season when injuries and/or incompetence hit. Last season, the 22-year old perhaps deserved more of a look based on what he did accomplish (3-1, 3.66 ERA, 39 IP, 18 BB, 28 K, 117 ERA+). It isn't a large sample size, but again, the number of walks scares me a little bit. However, since we have that problem with Hermanson anyway, it's certainly possible (especially with that promising ERA+) that he can at least be Dustin Hermanson v. 1.5 right now, with the potential to get even better with another year or two in the league. Before the season's over, I can't see him not getting an extended look as a possibility for the rotation.

Relief Pitching:

To begin with, it must be mentioned that any discussion of relief pitchers comes with the assumption that their performances on a year-to-year basis are volatile at best. One good year as a closer will cause teams to continue giving the Jose Mesas of the world serious innings at crucial times. However, as far as middle relief goes, you have to think that the Giants are in pretty good shape, barring any 180-degree swings from key members. This season, I think the real inning-eating workhorses in middle relief will be Matt Herges and Jim Brower.Herges in particular was fantastic last season after coming over from San Diego (1-0, 2.31 ERA, 35 IP, 9 BB, 28 K, 186 ERA+). He was big in clutch situations down the stretch, and can hopefully repeat the feat this season. Brower was also fantastic as the long man (8-5, 2 SV, 3.96 ERA, 100 IP, 39 BB, 65 K, 108 ERA+), and I don't see any reason why he can't do the same this season. Scott Eyre will also perform competently (2-1, 1 SV, 3.32 ERA, 57 IP, 26 BB, 35 K, 129 ERA+), although the walk ratio points to the idea that you mainly want to use him when you need a one-inning bridge between the starter and the set-up man.

As for our lefties, I worry more than a little. Chad Zerbe and Jason Christensen have been a little less than effective. Zerbe had a drastic drop-off from 2002 (1-1, 4.29 ERA, 91 ERA+, which was 125 in 2002).Christensen was injury-plagued, if I recall correctly (0-0, just 26 IP, 5.19 ERA, 83 ERA+), and he's 33 on top of it. However, there's a kid named Noah Lowry who got a brief stay with the big club last season (6 IP, 2 BB, 5 K). If Zerbe and Christensen tank, perhaps the 23-year old can slot in there and do the job.

I would also imagine that the set-up man, Felix Rodriguez, can do the job for at least another year (8-2, 2 SV, 3.10 ERA, 61 IP, 29 BB, 46 K, 138 ERA+). However, what if Robb Nen's injury (DNP in 2003) causes him to miss this season, too? Can Fe-Rod come in and do the job as the closer? Not only is the middle relief group really missing Joe Nathan, who was part of the Pierzynski trade (12-4, 79 IP, 145 ERA+), but it may end up being folly letting last year's stand-in closer, Tim Worrell, leave (4-4, 38 SV, 78 IP, 28 BB, 65 K, 149 ERA+). Time will tell, of course, but I live in fear of a scenario where Nen can't go, Fe-Rod implodes from the pressure involved in closing, and Sabean goes out and trades a high-end prospect for whatever the closing pitcher equivalent of Michael Tucker is. That said, I really want to believe that the middle relivers will hold the fort, Fe-Rod will have another above-average season as the set-up man, and Nen ends up recovering enough to have a servicable year as the closer. If I were forced to predict, though, I'd have to say that this is realistically a potential loose thread in the Giants' season -- one good tug could unravel the entire thing.

The Starting Eight:

If I had to venture a guess, I'd imagine that our starting lineup on opening day will look something like this:

2b -- Ray Durham
3b -- Edgardo Alfonzo
lf -- Superman
cf -- Marquis Grissom
rf -- Michael Tucker
c -- A.J. Pierzynski
1b -- J.T. Snow
ss -- Neifi Perez/Cody Ransom

Ummm.....yeah. This isn't a lineup that's going to put up cricket scores like the Yankees or Cardinals, but can they do just enough to win this terrible, terrible division?

Durham will lead off by default, I suppose (.283 BA, .807 OPS, 50 BB, 82 K). Of course, it's never good when your leadoff guy strikes out more than he walks, and he definitely is much more effective against lefties (.286/.810 vs. left, .277/.813 vs. right, but last year, the difference was much more pronounced). Who else is going to do it, though? As for The Shell of Edgardo Alfonzo (.258 BA, 13 HR, 81 RBI, .726 OPS, 58 BB, 41 K), I suppose the No. 2 slot is as good as any. He doesn't strike out, and if he can rebound from what was hopefully just an off-year, than he'll be useful hitting in front of Superman. If not, then they'll have to stick him somewhere around No. 6 or 7, I believe. His splits for last year make for pretty scary reading, too (.236 / .716 vs. left, .265 / .728 vs. right)...of course, his 3-years are a little better (.278/.812 vs. left, .268/.755 vs. right), but then again, last year was the one where he really dropped off...keep that in mind.

Here's another thing. We all know what Superman can do (.341 BA, 45 HR, 90 RBI, 1.278 OPS, 148 BB, 58 K). But, he IS turning 40 this season, and while his eye and patience are unparalled, when is the inevitable power drop-off going to happen? Sure, most people are just going to walk him three times a game like they usually do, but what happens when someone challenges him, and he finally proves to be human? What happens when someone remembers to pack their Kryptonite? He can't go on like this until 42 or 43, can he? He has no noticable weakness in his splits (.351/1.353 vs. left, .342/1.347 vs. right), and there doesn't seem to be any immediate reason to assume that it'll be anything but business-as-usual this time around. But, my mind just keeps coming back to "what if?". This entire offense revolves around this one guy, who has the Sword of Damacles hovering above him due to his age...maybe not today, maybe not this season, but someday, reality has to set in. What if it IS this season? Well, then we are, to quote the movie Snatch, "proper fucked".

Even more realistically, when does the sword fall on Grissom? He's 36, and although his numbers were pretty good (.300 BA, 20 HR, 79 RBI, .790 OPS, 20 BB, 82 K), does even the most optimistic Giants fan honestly believe that there isn't going to be SOME kind of drop-off there? Even with Benito Santiago doing what he did the last few years, I just can't see Grissom doing anything other than a full-on swandive off a cliff. By the way, check out his splits (.305/.935 vs. left, .253/.682 vs. right). Something tells me that righties are going to feast on him this time around. But, he's going to be a blessing compared to every blogger's favorite whipping boy, Michael Tucker (.262 BA, 13 HR, 55 RBI, .771 OPS, 39 BB, 88 K). Not too bad, until you see his splits (.221/.665 vs. left, .263/.770 vs. right), and recall that those are from 3 years playing in a bigtime hitters' park...that's not so good. Throw in the fact that Sabes overpaid for him, and, well, I'm starting to wonder how the hell this is going to be a playoff team, weak division or not.

While I think he may start the season at the No. 6 slot, I tend to think that A.J. Pierzynski will end up in several different lineup slots throughout the season (.312 BA, 11 HR, 74 RBI, .824 OPS, 24 BB, 55 K). It seems to me that Alou will experiment and see where he'll be most useful -- perhaps at No. 2 if Alfonzo continues his freefall, although I'd prefer having someone with less strikeouts in front of Superman. His splits also show that he's vulnerable to lefties (.254/.658 vs. left, .314/.825 vs. right). That said, I think he'll be an underrated part of the lineup, much like Benito Santiago was. Also, he's 27, so hopefully he'll be producing at or around this level for years to come. As for the No. 7 slot, it's the guy we all thought we were rid of, J.T. Snow. I suppose there wasn't much that Sabes could have done to replace him, but good goddamn, I wish we could get more than "Completely Average Guy" out of the first base position (.273 BA, 8 HR, 51 RBI, .806 OPS, 55 BB, 55 K). With him, I think the major question is if he can come up with another season of those kind of numbers (which I'd be happy with, all told), or if he'll go back to 2001-02 form, where he hit .246 both years, and had an OPS of .750 and .704. If we can get 2003's numbers out of him, then I suppose I can handle that out of a No. 7 hitter -- provided he provides Gold Glove-level defense at first. One last thing about Snow -- his splits for last year belie a horrible weakness against lefties (.208/.616 against lefties, .284/.837 against righties), and if you look at the three-years, well, g'huh (.246/.744 vs. left, .256/.751 vs. right).

That leaves us with our shortstops, who ironically wear Number One and Number Two (make your own scatological joke here, and how it relates to how well they'll play). I guess I'll get Neifi Perez out of the way first (.265 BA, .633 OPS, 14 BB, 23 K). For even more fun, check out what he did in 2002 for Kansas City, who as mentioned before play in a hitters' park: (.236 BA, .563 OPS, 20 BB, 53 K). His splits, of course, make for terrible reading as well: (.249/.633 vs. left, .261/.636 vs. right). Even for a No. 8 hitter, that is SHITE, plan and simple. As for Cody Ransom, he only had 27 AB for the big club last season (and a total of 37 AB lifetime), so it's not even worth looking at his stats, really. Actually, maybe it is worth mentioning that he has a .580 total OPS in those 37 AB, but with Neifi Perez being Neifi Perez, maybe Ransom will get a shot, especially if he has a great spring training. Then again, I'm sure we can always coax Jose Uribe out of retirement. ::smirk::


Here, we're looking at: Jeffrey Hammonds, Yorvit Torrealba, Pedro Feliz, Dustan Mohr, and Tony Torcato. Wow. I'm tempted to just write "Nothing to see here, move along", and just go on to the finish.

However, at least Hammonds can platoon against lefties (.293/.802 vs. lefties). Mohr is just a warm body, I don't know anything about Toracato and all 16 of his major league AB, Torrealba is perfectly servicable as the backup catcher, and Feliz at least has some power off the bench (16 HR, 48 RBI, .793 OPS). After that, it gets into a whole bunch of Some Guys, especially because I don't pay any attention to AAA. I sincerely hope that Carlos Valderrama can make the team, if only because I was such a fan of the afro-coiffed Colombian soccer player of the same name.


I scan the Arizona roster, and I don't see a team that's going to finish 15 games behind our mob, that's for damn sure. I don't think the D-Backs are going to take the NL West by storm either, so a playoff berth (as noted in the intro) is certainly not out of the question. However, I honestly believe the NL West winner is going to have at most 91-92 wins, and will get annhilated in the first round by whoever they play. On top of that, one can only predict based on the roster as it stands now -- it certainly stands to reason that Sabes can pull something off midseason, especially if we're struggling. However, with what I have in front of me, this version of the Giants does not scream out "playoff team", especially if Bonds slips a fraction of an inch.

Sorry to say, I see something like 85-77, 2nd in the NL West (3rd if Paul DePodesta can somehow revive the zombified LA Dodgers in record time). Prove me wrong, boys.


Stayin' alive...

I think one of the most interesting unasked sports questions out there (because, let's face it...to the American mainstream media, three sports exist, and it's not exactly a crushing mental exercise to determine the three) is this: what does a niche-sport league have to do to survive?

Make your arguments about the Arena Football League, but doesn't that have financial support from the NFL? In terms of a true independent league, I think the perfect example of a well-run league with realistic goals and aims is the National Lacrosse League. Yes, indoor lacrosse...few knows it exists, but those of us that know tend to unequivocably LOVE THE HELL out of it. It will never be my favorite sport, but it's fun, it's fast, and it gets my fix for ridiculously-high scoring out of the way.

Using the excellent timeline on www.nll.com, allow me to show you the reality for a league of this nature.


The Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League is incorporated. The league begins operations with four teams: The Philadelphia Wings, New Jersey Saints, Washington Wave, and Baltimore Thunder.


-- The first game is played before 5976, with the home Saints beating the Wings, 11-8.

-- The largest crowd of the year (14,903) saw Philly get their win back at home. Unsurprisingly, Philly is still around.

-- For the regular season, the total attendance was 124,536.


-- Same four teams, but tellingly, the site doesn't list a seasonal attendance figure. Only 8000 showed up to the championship game, though.

-- Thankfully, the first name change occurs...the league is now the Major Indoor Lacrosse League.

-- Also, the first major team changes: Detroit and New England come in as expansion teams, while New Jersey moves to Long Island.


-- The regular season sees a total attentance of 230,274 -- around 9600 a game.

-- The championship showed that Philly had by far the best fans in the league, as 16,042 watched the Wings win their first title.

-- The league expands again, as the Pittsburgh Bulls join the festivities for the 1990 season. However, it's still a 6-team league, as the Washington Wave cease operations.


-- Pittsburgh gets only 9200 for their opener. Not so good.

-- The Wings become the first team in league history to sell out their arena, packing 17,777 into the Spectrum.

-- League attendance goes up to the 260,000 mark.

-- The Gait brothers, Gary and Paul, are drafted into the league, starting their career for Detroit. This means nothing to you if you don't follow the sport, but it's self-explanatory if you do.


-- Same teams, but each team plays 10 games instead of 8 now.

-- Attendance goes up slightly, but factoring in the extra games, the average dipped a bit.

-- Expansion occurs once again, as the Buffalo Bandits take the number of teams up to 7 for 1992.

-- New England moves officially to Boston.


-- Buffalo becomes the second team to sell out, with 16,325 cramming into the Aud.

-- Buffalo repeats the achievment the next month, a first in league history.

-- Again, no seasonal attendance is listed here, but it couldn't have been a significant drop.

-- The league gets a game on TV for the first time, as the Empire Sports Network aired one of the better Finals in league history, with the Wings on the wrong side of an 11-10 overtime decision against Buffalo.


-- Buffalo becomes the first team in league history to sell out every home game.

-- ESPN2 signs a deal to televise the league's games. My theory is that no small part of it was that Buffalo and Philly had another fantastic championship game, with Buffalo coming back to win 13-12.


-- ESPN2's first broadcast shows Detroit taking on Baltimore. Ironically, both teams didn't last too much longer.

-- 3/26/94, I watch my first-ever game. Philadelphia beats Boston thanks to 8 goals from Paul Gait, thus cementing my Wings fandom forevermore. Besides, the Wings have always had the best jerseys in the league!

-- In the very first final I ever saw, Philly demolished Buffalo (IN Buffalo!) 26-15, and the game wasn't even as close as the score. This was the first game that had a live broadcast, and actually was shown on the big network, ESPN.

-- The Detroit Turbos discontinue operations, but the Rochester Knighthawks enter the league as an expansion franchise.


-- Philly breaks the attendance record, with 17,380 watching the regular-season finale. By the way, the timeline hasn't listed seasonal attendances for these years...but, if memory serves me right, it was mainly Philly and Buffalo (and then Rochester when they came in) doing all the heavy lifting in that respect.

-- The Charlotte Cobras enter the league as an expansion team. That makes 8 teams, the most the league has ever had.


-- This marks the 10-year anniversary of the league (and, coincidentally, of the Wings, Saints, and Thunder).

-- Charlotte loses its first game, 17-4 to Boston. That will be a microcosm for their existence.

-- For the 4th time in 5 years, the final pits Buffalo against Philadelphia. It's no secret to those who have followed the league that those two clubs kept the league in existence, especially because if the 92-96 Wings and Bandits were in the league now, they'd be practically All-Star Teams.

-- The Charlotte Cobras discontinue operations. Thanks for coming, guys.


-- The Bandits' new home (well, the Sabres' new home) means the attendance record is broken yet again, as 18,595 come to watch them play local rivals Rochester. You would never think of that area as a lacrosse hotbed, but both those teams still exist today, and they're right next to each other.

-- Finally, the Wings' reign of terror ended with a semifinal loss to Rochester (who went on to beat Buffalo in the final). This is the last final I remember watching, so I imagine this is when the ESPN2 deal ran out.

-- Major changes abound -- The league abandons its single-entity structure, and goes to individual team ownership; the name is changed to its current one, the National Lacrosse League; and, Syracuse Smash and Ontario Raiders come into the league as expansion teams. Hamilton, Ontario is, of course, the first Canadian city in league history.


-- Yep, I was right...this is when the league had to retract to regional networks, which was the last I actually got to see of the league until this season.

-- The first multi-game playoff system begins this season, with Philly annhilating Baltimore in two straight to win another title.

-- Ontario is moved to Toronto, who renames them the Rock.


-- Finally, we get a seasonal attendance again...turns out it's a 9161 average, which they say is over 1000 more than the previous year. THAT explains a lot, especially about the franchises not from Philly, Buffalo, Rochester, or Toronto. However, notice that from the time Buffalo came into the league, the Bandits and Wings carried the entire load of the league until the third stable franchise (Rochester) came in. Toronto coming in was the fourth...this is the point where you can really start to draw conclusions about the whole thing, I think.

-- Philly breaks their own record for fewest goals in a game (was 4), as Toronto beats them 13-2 to close out their series. Turns out Toronto went on to win the whole enchilada. The final was broadcast on ESPN2...I didn't see it, but I can see how it wasn't completely off the radar.

-- More comings and goings: Albany comes in as an expansion team, Baltimore finally gives up the ghost (they were terrible for most of their existence, especially after the 4-team era), and are moved to Pittsburgh. That team, by the way, ends up with the worst name in league history: The Pittsburgh CrosseFire. Yikes.


-- Again, a hockey team's new arena helps break the attendance record, as 18,911 pack the First Union Center to watch the Wings beat up on Pittsburgh.

-- The 2000 NLL Final, besides being the best final in league history, is the last sporting event to be played in Maple Leaf Gardens. The Rock play the Knighthawks again, and again, the Rock come out on top -- thanks to a goal scored with 1.1 seconds left in regulation. Toronto wins, 14-13.

-- Columbus comes into the league. What exactly is a "Landshark", anyway, and what does it have to do with Columbus?

-- Two teams are sold in the offseason: Syracuse went to Ottawa to become the Rebel, and Pittsburgh are moved to Washington to become the Power. As the WUSA showed, naming any team the Power is an omen of the worst order, and should generally be avoided.


-- The league announces plans for a developmental league. It was supposed to begin in 2003, but nothing has been heard of since. That would probably be stretching it, even though the league is doing well again.

-- For the third time, a hockey team moving helps break the attendance record, as Toronto crams 19,059 into the Air Canada Centre. Toronto would better that by a bit (19,409) for the Championship game, which they lose to Philadelphia (good thing, too...my poor Wings were perilously close to the distinction of "Toronto's Bitch").

-- At various points during the year, more expansion teams are named: The Vancouver Ravens, Calgary Roughnecks, New Jersey Storm, and Montreal Express. Calgary was the furthest-west expansion team up until Vancouver was announced.


-- Washington is sold, and moved to Denver. I've heard of worse team names than the Colorado Mammoth, but not many.

-- Montreal gets a one-year suspension of operations, but then they never resurfaced. I don't know how you could, when all your players are dispersed among the other franchises.

-- Ginny Capicchoni plays in a preseason game for New Jersey...just like Manon Rheaume, she disappeared right after.


-- I've again noticed that no season attendances have been listed for quite a while...however, I'd estimate that most of the franchises were doing okayish, while the Big Four continued to mostly get sellouts.

-- Albany is sold, and moved to San Jose. New Jersey is sold, and moved to Anaheim. Anaheim keeps the Storm name, but San Jose becomes the "Stealth" (sigh). Also, Columbus is moved to Arizona, who become the Sting. Finally, Ottawa gets one of those dubious one-year suspensions.

-- This gets mentioned separately, but another team got a suspension as well...sadly, the New York Saints decided to suspend operations, leaving just one of the Original Four alive. However, in better news, this is the same time when the league signed their contract with Fox Sports Net, getting them back onto channels that more than 18 people get.

-- Also, the league branched off into divisions for the first time ever. That speaks for the fact that they've been able to expand far enough afield to make it worthwhile.

I think what you can take out of this is the fact that for a nascent league to survive, they NEED a marquee matchup that can capture the imagination of the fans. The NLL proved that you can have two teams + stuff, as long as those two teams have a worthwhile rivalry. While in some ways, some would say that the league is hurt in several markets because of all the constant moving, I take the opposite view. The NLL has been amazingly ruthless in terms of identifying and destroying sick franchises. While even MLS persists with clubs like the Kansas City Wizards, and the WUSA persisted with, well, the whole league (sorry to say), the NLL has shown that cutting off a limb can sometimes save the whole body. They've also done an amazing job of moving to progressively bigger and bigger markets, and have expanded in an intelligent fashion region-wise. While I think they should have found a way to get into Canada WAY sooner (fun fact: lacrosse is their national sport, not hockey), it's impressive that they didn't just up and decide to hit California when they hadn't even gotten much past the midwest.

Just to give you an idea, I'll close with a list of franchises in league history (just to see it all in one place):


Philadelphia Wings (1986 - )
Buffalo Bandits (1991 - )
Rochester Knighthawks (1994 - )
Toronto Rock [Ontario Raiders] (1998 - )
Vancouver Ravens (2002 - )
Calgary Roughnecks (2002 - )
Colorado Mammoth [by way of Baltimore/Pittsburgh/Washington] (2002 - )
San Jose Stealth [by way of Albany] (2003 - )
Anaheim Storm [by way of Jersey] (2003 - )
Arizona Sting [by way of Columbus] (2003 - )


New York Saints (1986 - 2003)
Baltimore Thunder (1986 -1999) --> Pittsburgh Crossefire (2000 - 2000) --> Washington Power (2001 - 2002)
Washington Wave (1986 - 1989)
Detroit Turbos (1989 - 1994)
Boston Blazers (1989 - no end mentioned in the timeline)
Pittsburgh Bulls (1990 - no end mentioned in the timeline)
Charlotte Cobras (1996 - 1996)
Syracuse Smash (1998 - 2000) --> Ottawa Rebel (2001 - 2003)
Albany Attack (1999 - 2003)
Columbus Landsharks (2001 - 2003)
New Jersey Storm (2002 - 2003)
Montreal Express (2002 - 2002)


A little bit of history

If you're into baseball like I am (or any sport for that matter), memory can be a funny, hazy thing. In particular, I've wondered time and time again exactly when I became a San Francisco Giants fan. I never had the year right (I always thought it was 1986), and I couldn't have ever remembered what month it was. All I knew was that it was a Giants-Mets game at Shea, where Jeffrey Leonard hit a home run in the top of the 10th (by the way, I'm STILL mad at my father for making us leave in the 9th so we could beat the goddamn traffic). That was it. So, there was never any prayer of me discovering the date, right? Well, actually, there is.


This site is an absolute blessing. I came across it because I wanted to know a little bit about the players I was using in MicroLeague Baseball -- who the No. 1 starter would be, who the closers were, stuff like that. However, I found out that they had game-by-game logs of every team, for every season (where do they get all the space and bandwidth?)...so, while the search proved fruitless in 1986, then again in 1985, I saw a game in 1987 that was 5-4 in 10 innings. Sure enough, it was a Jeffrey Leonard home run (off of the debuting Jeff Innis) in the top of the 10th. That's my game!

May 16, 1987 -- that is my anniversary (so to speak), with the San Francisco Giants Baseball Club. It's nice, because I don't even have the small threads of memory for the Niners/Bills or Lakers or Arsenal or Celtic (I know I became a Canadiens fan from the game-clincher in the 1986 Stanley Cup Final, but the memory of that is gone...unlike the SF-NY game).

SF: 020 002 000 1 -- 5 12 0
NY: 200 011 000 0 -- 4 11 0

Boxscore is here: http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/B05160NYN1987.htm

By the way, yes, it is THAT Matt Williams playing shortstop. The interesting thing is that a lot of SF's regulars had the day off for that game -- Robby Thompson, Jose Uribe, Bob Brenly (yes, the smirking putz I hate now who manages Arizona), Candy Maldonado. Also, considering our pitcher that day was a mediocre guy making a spot start (who would be traded along with not much else to get Kevin Mitchell AND Dave Dravecky), I could VERY easily be a Mets fan right now (I said right from the beginning that I'd swear allegiance to whoever won...I had said that before, so I'm shocked my Yankee-loving father didn't take me to a Yankee game they'd be likely to win).

Ahh well. While being a Met fan would be easier simply because the games are on at normal times and I could always see them on TV, I have to say I'm kinda glad it worked out this way!

I'm a dork...

...and am playing out a league between the teams on MicroLeague Baseball (and keeping all the stats and stuff, natch).

How's this for a Worst Pitching Performance on Dominant Team lines?

Starter: Dan Petry (1984 DET), 4 2/3 IP, 9 R, 9 ER, 8 H, 0 K, 8 BB
Reliever: Dan Quisenberry (1980 KC), 0 IP, 7 R, 7 ER, 6 H, 0 K, 0 BB

For the curious, I'm playing 3-game series at a time...so far the '78 Yankees tok 2 out of 3 from the '80 Royals (Ron Guidry of all people losing the first game), and the '68 Tigers swept the 1984 version (who were at home).


Match of the Year...no doubt about it.

So, I finally got a chance to catch the 4th Round FA Cup replay between Tottenham Scumspur and Manchester City. WOW. Just...wow. The FA Cup has a long history of improbable comebacks and upsets, but I think this one just may eclipse them all.

Two minutes in, the Scum are up 1-0. By halftime, it's 3-0 (all credit to them, every single one of the goals had a top-quality finish). Even worse for City (that is, besides the fact that they had won 2 out of the last 19 or something in that neighborhood), Joey Barton got himself sent off in an extremely strange fashion. Now, let it be said that Barton, though a tough, hard-working midfielder, is more trouble than he's worth with all the stupid cards he takes. And, arguing with this particular ref (Rob Styles, who is notorious for being quick on the draw with the red card), is an exercise in stupidity. However, Styles said himself that Barton didn't use foul or abusive language, which is the ONLY time a second yellow should come out, barring the argument being oddly persistent. Again, refs need to closely consider when and why they show anyone red, because 90% of the time, it's going to determine the outcome of the game.

To sum up: Man City, playing as poorly as they were, found themselves down 3-0 after 45 minutes, and faced an entire second half with only ten men. I've seen this type of game before, and it usually ends up in 5-0 or 6-0 territory. But, again, this is the FA Cup, and weird, improbable things can and do happen.

Just a few minutes into the second half, though, it became apparent that City wasn't going to allow themselves to be embarrassed. A very nice cross found its way to Sylvain Distin, who cooly finished past Keller...3-1, with the entire second half to go. The thing that struck me most of all was the pure BELIEF flowing from everyone involved with the side in light blue. The players believed, the fans believed, Kevin Keegan believed...and, it became very apparent that Tottenham were panicking already. They started giving away the ball, making mistakes defensively, and City started to completely boss the game. The Scum couldn't get past the City midfield most times, and it was fantastic.

However, the few times they did break through, Arni Arason (making his debut in City's net due to David James being cup-tied) made some absolutely fantastic saves to keep the Scum at 3...if they had scored a fourth, then I think even City's belief and spirit wouldn't have been enough. Then, around the 60th or so, a fortituous deflection off a Scum defender looped over Keller and in, and anyone watching the game live HAD to have known that something special was likely in the offing.

When Shaun Wright-Phillips capped off a brilliant individual move to level the scores, that alone would have been enough to have City go down as one of the most spirited sides in FA Cup history. But, they weren't done. Tottenham had the whiff of death around them, and Man City, to their credit, cashed in before the Scum could get to injury time (where they could likely have regrouped). With seconds left in injury time, Tarnat's picture-perfect cross was met by Jon Macken, whose looping header curled over Keller and in...speaking of which, I feel so bad for that guy. He's not an elite goalkeeper anymore, but he deserves better than slumming it with such a terrible approximation of a real Premiership side.

That said, the real irony here is that Man City worked so hard, only to get destroyed by Man United in the 5th round. Wow.


Nice to see...

In an international friendly last night, a very brave Iraq team went down to their Japanese hosts by a score of 2-0. But, some things to take away from it...

-- This was a full-strength Japanese side, who are 20-something in the world, and the undisputed No. 1 team in Asia. As this past World Cup showed, they're insanely tough to beat at home.

-- Iraq had two very clear chances to score...Japan's defense isn't bad at all, but Iraq had two instances where they caught the Japanese flat-footed, and their striker was alone with the goalkeeper. At the international level, you HAVE to score in that situation, even though Seigo Narazaki is an outstanding goalie (perhaps the best in all of Asia). Didn't get the first guy's name, but he should have done MUCH better in the 16th minute, but his tame effort was stopped easily. And, Ahmed Alwan had an even more glorious chance, but at least he can say Narazawa robbed him blind. Still, their finishing will have to get better if they want to compete in Asia.

-- More importantly, it's nice to know that the Iraqi's won't get beaten and tortured for losing the game. You know, I was surprised too, but Iraq, despite everything is, 40-something in the world. For all the various circumstances surrounding them, that is an AMAZING accomplishment.

If Iraq is doing this well so soon after the reign of Uday Hussein over their sporting programs, you have to think that they have a real chance of becoming one of the stronger teams in Europe. I would imagine that some facilities and coaching infastructure is the only thing separating them from the regional powers (Saudi Arabia and Iran, in that order). They have a long way to go in catching Asia's true powers, South Korea and Japan (again, in that order...for some reason, the Far East is way ahead of the Middle East soccer-wise....you can argue that China is *this* close to being especially strong too...that is, if they can get their shit together).

I'm rooting for them...I'd love to see them beat the shit out of the Saudis and make it to the next World Cup (Germany 2006).



Can someone please give me a plausible explanation why American soccer fans are treated like 3-year olds by most European fans?

Is it really THAT much of a leap to understand that some of us actually love the sport, and know what we're talking about?

Why does it have to be people thousands of miles away, who I can't bitchslap for their ignorance AND arrogance?




One of the few posts I will ever cross-post to both this and my blog...

I downloaded an emulator for the old Apple IIe (the computer I had when I was like 8), and found a bunch of the old games I played growing up -- Pool of Radiance, MicroLeague Baseball, Might and Magic II...shit like that. And, I have to say, that these games, despite the ghetto graphics and all the rest of the limitations inherent in coming out in the late 80s, these games had a certain fun factor that a lot of games today lack.

Some of this may just be nostalgia. Some of it may be that I don't get a chance to play many games for systems more recent than the Dreamcast. But, the sense I did get from when I lived in houses that had these advanced systems is that games today try to hide behind fancy graphics, and all sorts of other neat bells and whistles.

However, facts are facts. The best hockey game by far ever made is NHL '95, which I rocked on the Genesis during high school. If the goalies had been a little tougher to score on, then its place would be well and truly cemented (it was way too easy to score on a deke or on a one-timer). Everything that has come out since just hasn't caught anywhere near the magic and the FEEL of hockey that '95 did.

Another example: The Final Fantasy series of games is a long and distinguished one, but for me, the list goes FF III, then a huge chasm down to FF II, then another huge chasm to whatever you want to put in third. Those two were on the Super Nintendo, and all the later ones have S-U-C-K-E-D. I can't even put my finger on why...but I HATED 7 and 8. I would go to the wall for 3 being the best-ever one.

And, while I'm on the subject, another general lament: Why oh why can't anyone make a fucking decent soccer video game? Nothing I've ever played has even come close to capturing the feel of a real soccer match. Note to game developers: 1) It should be more difficult to score (on easy), and not as ridiculously hard (on medium or hard), 2) It's common in the sport of soccer for fouls to be called on BOTH teams (not just the one controlled by the first player...only Manchester United playing at Old Trafford gets away with what the computer always does), 3) I watch a LOT of soccer games, and I have never (not ONCE) seen someone score from a header outside the penalty area. FIFA 2000, I'm looking at YOU, 4) Someone is going to have to make a game where it doesn't feel like a version of pinball played between two sets of guys in different colors. That's the biggest problem.


Added links...

...so, as an excuse to republish, let me say that the Skills Competition was all kinds of fun last night. Roberto Luongo impressed the hell out of me especially...he's going to be insanely good, before it's all over.

Added comments...

...even though like 6 people read this. Maybe.



We're good at EVERYTHING, aren't we?

It occurs to me that as a collective country, we have come as close as possible (I think) to completely maximizing our potential for athletic greatness. Most people never think about it, but even taking into account our population, our money, and our propensity for competitiveness, our overall record is pretty effing impressive.

In the sports that we love the most, we are of course at or near the top.

American football: We're the only country that plays it, so we're # 1 by default.
Baseball: The number of nations that play it is slowly growing, but the list is still relatively small. However, the # 1 slot would easily be between us or the Dominican Republic. Cuba and Japan would fight for # 3, I think.
Basketball: Easily # 1, by a long, long, long, long way. However, it'll be interesting to see what the landscape is like 20 years from now, as not only are Argentina and Lithuania threating to become Really Effing Good, so is China, and new countries are picking it up at a relatively rapid rate.
Ice Hockey: At any given time, the USA is # 2 - # 5. The list of countries that play it internationally is much longer than you think (England, Holland, Mexico, etc etc etc), so we're definitely among the very elite.

But, take a look at all the sports we don't care about as a collective whole (at least if you believe ESPN and the rest of the mainstream media)...and you see just how effective we are at using the talent available.

Soccer: 14 years ago, our national team was getting destroyed by opponents' reserve teams. Now, we're at or near the top 10 in the FIFA Rankings (remember, just about everyone in the world plays soccer), and we're legitimately one of those teams that are dangerous to even the Brazils, the Germanys, the Italys. In 20 years, we will be the best team in the world...bet on it.

Tennis: Andy Roddick. Pete Sampras (he just retired, but still). Andre Agassi. Venus Williams. Serena Williams. Lindsey Davenport. New phenoms coming up all the time. Thank you, drive through. While we distressingly don't win the Davis Cup every year (we certainly have the talent to), Americans win more than their share of Grand Slams, in both singles and doubles.

Gymnastics: We always have medallists in the major competitions, it seems.

Figure skating: See gymnastics.

Water polo: From what I gather, we always beat the mid-level teams and below, but lose to the top-tier teams. Considering NOBODY knows this sport exists in the States, being somewhere in the top 15 or so isn't bad at all.

Rugby: You can argue that our ruggers are where our soccer team was around 1988-1992 or so. However, the only caveat is that we did really well in this past World Cup -- a hard-fought win over Japan, a Norwood-esque miss costing us against Fiji (a very good mid-level team), and, with a little luck, we could have beat Scotland (one of the best 6 or 7 teams on the planet). We also gave France (top 3, at least) a scare for the first half. I think we'll only get better, as awareness of the sport and the infastructure and coaching begin to improve.

Curling: Unless my memory's really off, we've won Olympic gold (at the last one, I think, although it may have been Nagano).

And you can probably think of more examples, too. It's amazing how it only takes a relative few people to decide they want to start something up, and within an amazingly-fast time period, we're either dominating or very, very competitive. Contrast that to a country like India, who's pretty OK at cricket, and as far as I know, not much good in anything else. With a billion people, why can't they find 16 good soccer players? Why can't they rise above mid-level in cricket? Why can't China get above "1st-round victim" in soccer?


Interesting question...

...taken from something I responded to in the premiership group at Live Journal.

If you had the combined rosters of Arsenal and Manchester United, what would your starting 11/5-man bench look like?

After careful consideration, I came up with:

GK: Tim Howard
LB: Ashley Cole
CB: Sol Campbell
CB: Rio Ferdinand (when not suspended, of course)
RB: Kolo Toure
LW: Ryan Giggs
CM: Patrick Vieira
CM: Roy Keane
RM: Robert Pires
CF: Theirry Henry
CF: Ruud van Nistelrooy

Bench: Jens Lehmann (GK), Paul Scholes, Wes Brown (or John O'Shea), Jose Antonio Reyes, Louis Saha

Good goddamn...how many million pounds is that on the BENCH, let alone the starting 11?


Hey! What do you know?

Surprise surprise, another bullshit "professional foul" caused the Arsenal Kids to lose in the League Cup semifinal to a Boro side that probably would have been completely seen off otherwise.

I don't disagree with Dermot Gallagher showing red...according to the Laws of the Game, he had no choice. It's just that I believe that that particular law is a bunch of fucking horse bollocks, and should be abolished.

A yellow and a free kick are more than enough punishment, a penalty if it's in the area and prevents a scoring chance. Completely changing a game is NOT a suitable punishment. Sorry.


...and another thing...

Which just occurs to me watching the Leeds - Boro highlights...

A red card, IMO, should ONLY be for extreme measures: A horrific tackle, two REAL yellow-worthy offenses, that kind of thing. I think the rule should be changed about "professional fouls"...usually, the punishment of a free kick or a yellow card will fit the crime. The fact is, a red card not only drastically affects a given game, but it drastically affects the next one (or 2) also. And, for a goalkeeper barely clipping a guy with his fucking little toe...it's bullshit to give a red, and it smacks of the ref looking to get his name in the fucking newspaper.

Fuck Chelsea...

I was going to do a whole long post on this, but I don't really have the motivation. In short, poaching the best player of the team directly below you in the standings simply because you have the money and can....it's unsporting, it's gutless, and...well...typical of how Chelsea are going to operate from now on, I suppose.

As for Scott Parker himself, a big "fuck you" goes out to him, too. He signed a 5-year contract, and bails before the first is up. Reeeeaaaaaal classy. He could have made it to the Champions' League AND been a hero for life at Charlton, but he's willing to take the money and sit on the bench half the time.

The word "cunt" doesn't even begin to describe him.

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