S C M O
Advertise Your Product at SCMO
S C M O
The Offshore Angler's Online Home ©
MarlinBlog

 

Posts tagged ‘sports’

On the Cusp of a Cup

If you know me, even just through the site, then you know I’m a huge sports fan. I can pretty much talk any sport at any time to any one – hell, I’m probably the one guy you know who can explain Aussie rules. I’m someone who can appreciate the historic nature of certain sporting achievements, and I’m here to tell you – we’re about to see something epic.

Like most people who’ve spent their life in one place, I’m a homer when it comes to the local sports teams. Sure, there’s that torrid affair I have with the team from South Beach, but for the most part, I pull for the home team. Dodgers, Lakers, Galaxy, Rams, Raiders – all have held my affection at one point or another. At the top of the list, however, have always been the Los Angeles Kings.

Ask anyone who’s been around long enough to remember the gold and purple uniforms, and they’ll tell you how hard it’s been to be a Kings family. From their formation in 1967, most seasons saw the squad not getting so much as a sniff of the playoffs. But there was always a cadre of loyal fans.

Growing up, I was a huge Kings fan. I was a member of their fan club and had the framed certificate on my bedroom wall. We had Rogie Vachon between the pipes and Marcel Dionne leading the Triple Crown Line. There were high points, like 1982’s “Miracle on Manchester” takedown of Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers, but they were few and far between.

That all changed in 1988. A new owner, new unit and a new stud named Gretzky meant that hockey in LA would never again be the same. Wayne seemingly brought half the Cup-winning Edmonton squad with him, so success couldn’t be far off, right? Well, as Bill Murray found out in “Groundhog Day“, some corners can’t be cut. The Kings made it to the finals in ’93 but came up short, losing to the Canadiens 4-1.

While it didn’t bring a Cup to LA, the Gretzky Experiment nonetheless changed the face of hockey. New teams appeared in San Jose, Anaheim, Denver and Phoenix – the latter two Canadian teams that, much to the chagrin of those north of the border, fled to warmer climes much like a pair of snowbirds. There was a renewed interested in hockey in America, and both the Ducks and Avalanche would soon hoist the Cup.

Not so the Kings, however. Gretz was shipped to the Blues in ’99, and owner Bruce McNall to jail shortly thereafter, his financial house of cards in ruins. They might not have looked like the Kings of old, but they soon played like them, as the word “hapless” was soon used to describe their play once again. It would be another decade before hope appeared on the horizon.

The hiring of Dean Lombardi in 2006, along with solid drafts throughout the decade, allowed the team to slowly grow, slowly build into a contender. The emergence of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and other home-grown players meant that hockey fans had reason to be optimistic. The 2011-2012 season looked like the year when it all might come together …

… And then they dropped the puck. Despite the acquisition of Mike Richards from the Flyers and a number of preseason pundits predicting success for the Kings, the team stumbled out of the blocks with a .500 start, leading to the firing of coach Terry Murray in December. Often, such turmoil would lead to a wasted season, but new coach Daryl Sutter brought a new level of discipline to the talented but underachieving team, and a trade-deadline deal for Richards’ one-time scoring partner Jeff Carter left the Kings with 4 well-balanced lines. The team had a big hole to dig out of, but finished strong and clinched the last playoff spot.

Watching this Kings team play is surreal for a long-time fan. We’re used to having our favorite players, people we love but understand are simply not as good as the other teams’ stars. This year’s squad – particularly now – are beasts. They only lost two games while blowing through the numbers 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the Western Conference, winning the first three games in each series. Favored in the Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils, they followed up a pair of overtime victories with a thorough dismantling of the Devils in Game 3. As desperate as you knew they were, New Jersey simply couldn’t stand up against Los Angeles. The Kings are bigger, faster and younger. They beat them on the power play and stoned them as penalty killers. The offense was better, the defense was better, the coaching was better – it was as dominant a performance as I’ve ever seen in a sporting final series, and a signature moment for the team.

As impressive as their performance was in the game, it was afterwards that the maturity and focus of this squad really showed. A big win on home ice in front of the largest sporting crowd in Staples Center history left them a single win away from hoisting the Cup, but there was no sense of celebration or joy – just a few glove touches as they moved on to the challenge of Game 4. Unlike their arena-mates the Lakers, I have no doubt the Kings will close out the series tonight and finally enjoy the celebration they so richly deserve – and have completely earned.

Make room in the rafters, boys – a new banner is on the way!

Sporting Nirvana

Is this a great time to be an LA sports fan or what?

Los Angeles has long taken grief from those who live east of it as some kind of wasteland when it comes to sporting events. A lot of that comes from the fact that we lost not one but two NFL franchises within a year, but the fact that whenever an East Coast team plays at Dodger Stadium there are usually more fans of the visiting team probably plays a role as well. Now I could hold up the pathetic records of those two football teams or the even more disgusting effect that the McCourt ownership had on the Dodgers as reasons why the people stayed away from the games, but the perception is what it is. But that’s all about to change …

All of sudden, LA’s sports franchises are all playing out of their minds. The Kings and Lakers are making title runs in the playoffs. The Dodgers have the best record in all of baseball. Heck, even the long-laughable Clippers are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in … ever? The poor fans are losing their minds trying to decide which games to attend, even when they’re close to each other (and more on that in a minute). How in the Harry Carey did this happen?

Kobe and the Lakers are struggling to survive ...

You could argue that it started last year, when David Beckham finally validated that big contract by helping to lead the LA Galaxy to the MLS Cup. But it really goes back further than that. Blake Griffin … Andrew Bynum … Clayton Kershaw – these guys don’t just step off the bus in LA. Intelligent scouting – and a little luck – made sure that the LA clubs had the people on hand to lead the revolution. But you still have to execute …

No one is surprised to find the Lakers in the playoffs – hell, it’s the LAKERS. But to see the Clippers matching them victory for victory is a treat, especially for those who suffered through the last two decades of mediocrity. That mediocrity has over the years garnered the Clips a number of lottery picks, but it wasn’t until Griffin arrived that any of those picks were justified. Even he had to go through a year lost to injury before blowing up last year. But it was luck in the form of a petulant David Stern that really set the Clipper table for this year’s playoff run. When he voided the trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers, opting instead to ship him to their cross-arena rivals, you could practically feel the ground shift under Staples Center. Streaky at times as they sought to find their rhythm in a strike-shortened season (and to overcome the quirky decisions of coach Vinny Del Negro), the Clippers stayed in the middle of the pack before securing their playoff spot and a series with Memphis, whom they defeated in a tough 7-game series. The Lakers, meanwhile, had their hands full with the Denver Nuggets, a team that stretched Kobe and Co to seven games as well. Both LA teams survived, but were forced to move forward dog-tired to a second round matchup with considerably more potent opponents.

... while another LA team is on a mission.

Over at Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers are off their best start in decades, but if you try and tell me you saw this coming, I’m calling BS. Sure they have the defending Cy Young Award winner Kershaw and the should-be-defending MVP Matt Kemp, but this is the exact same team that couldn’t shoot straight last season. Sure, they had a soft schedule to start, but I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, mid-level starting pitchers brought in to fill out the rotation, have both pitched like they want Kershaw’s award. Kemp, meanwhile, has started this season even hotter than he ended the last, as improbable as that sounds. We’re only a month and a half into the season, and the team is as far above .500 as they were by the end of last year. No one else in the division seems to be stepping up, and the coast would seem to be clear for a Dodger playoff run.

Yes, halcyon days indeed – but there are dark clouds on the horizon. The Galaxy’s attempt to defend their title has been a bust, despite the surprising decision by Beckham to re-sign for another season. Both the Clippers and Lakers face difficult second round series, and if the Lakers’ thorough ass-kicking last night by the Thunder is any indication, the end of the road for both teams could be in sight. Over in Dodgertown, Matt Kemp is nursing a sore hammy that is threatening to put him – and most of the team’s offense – on the DL. The Blue Crew followed their amazing home start with a road thud, only winning half their away games so far this year.

If there is a bright star in the LA sports sky, it’s got to be the Kings. Unlike the other teams in town, the Kings were actually expected to compete this year for the NHL’s Stanley Cup. They had an established star in Anze Kopitar, a solid keeper in Jonathon Quick and new leadership in the offseason acquisition Mike Richards. But they stumbled out of the blocks, scoring fewer goals than any other team in the league, leading to the midseason firing of their coach. Normally, that would be the end of the line for a team, but much like my beloved Florida Marlins in 2003, the team rallied and jelled late in the season. They squeaked into the playoffs, but were clearly at the top of their game as they ambushed both the first and second seeds in the first two rounds. As I write this, the Kings are in the process of blowing out the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes in Game Two of their series. Assuming they wrap up the win, they’ll only be two games away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since the Great One-led squad lost to the Canadiens in ’93 (remember Marty McSorley and Stickgate? I do … grr … ). An epic run to say the least.

One interesting side note to all the playoff excitement in the City of the Angels. LA has invested a lot of money (mostly private capital) in the region of town just south of downtown referred to as “LA Live“. That’s where you’ll find the Nokia Theater and Staples Center and, eventually, the new Farmers Field football arena. This weekend, if the schedules stay as planned, the area’s gonna get a workout like never before, as the Lakers, Clippers and Kings will all have home playoff games – sometimes on the same day. Add to that the Sunday afternoon finish to the Tour of California, the largest professional bicycle race in the country, and you’re going to have thousands of spectators competing for parking, real estate and air. Sports nirvana could quickly become sports armageddon – but that’s why we love it so much!

Good News On The Sands

I was born and raised at the beach and, while no one would confuse me for an athlete, I have a deep appreciation for beach sports. Thus it was with a heavy heart that I reported back in August on the demise of the AVP, the professional beach volleyball tour. Those of us who care for the sport feared we were entering a dark decade, but it appears that the light at the end of the tunnel is a lot closer than we had feared.

When the AVP collapsed the week before the iconic Manhattan Beach Open, the California Beach Volleyball Association stepped in, allowing the event to proceed – albeit in a much smaller version. That was a one-time deal, however, and the rest of the season was cancelled. That left the tour players – among them, the defending Olympic Men’s and Women’s champions – with no domestic options to ply their craft or hone their skills. Worse, the only Olympic-qualifing events would now be overseas as part of the FIVB tour, meaning the best American players would play in Europe, and the rest would be unemployed. By the time a new domestic tour could be organized and financed, the current generation of players would be long retired – and no one would be there to replace them.

I’m happy to report that the Doomsday scenario described above might just be avoided. USA Volleyball, the governing body for the sport in America, has partnered with event management giant IMG to form a new professional beach volleyball tour – and it starts next year!

The Beach Championship Series will consist of four to six events and include tournaments in Hermosa Beach, Huntington Beach, Chicago and Belmar, NJ. In addition, the USAV will operate the Olympic trials for the first time since 1996.

“This represents USA Volleyball’s continuing commitment to and investment in beach volleyball,” said USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal in a statement released Monday. “This partnership will allow us to promote the beach game while giving U.S. beach volleyball teams the opportunity to compete at a high level as we move toward London in 2012.”

There’s more good news associated with the announcement. Dave Williams, formerly the VP of Operations for the AVP and they guy who produced over 150 of their tournaments, has been hired as the Managing Director for the new USA Beach Volleyball, meaning there’ll be an experienced hand at the controls.

Personally, I think this is great news. It’s nice to see USAV working on the beach side of things for a change, and bringing the right people into the mix to insure success. It’ll be interesting to see if they integrate Manhattan Beach into their series – key to long term success – but this is a big step in the right direction for fans of the sport.

Holy Cow! Is That A Sports Rant?

Trying to mix things up here at the ol’ MB – maybe you get a rant, maybe you don’t. Today, you do …

– We’ll start with a decidedly non-sports story that has nevertheless dominated the sporting world this season. The divorce of Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren became official today, meaning Tiger is now free to pursue all the strippers, porn stars and Hooters girls he wants. Both sides declared an intention to not discuss the settlement, so financial details were not announced (duh), but the two will share custody and parenting duties of the children as Nordegren, who is currently studying to be a psychologist, will remain in the States to provide Woods with access to the children. Frankly, this day was inevitable. Despite what would appear on the outside to be heroic efforts by both to save the marriage, some things are just too much to overcome. There was an article on one of the online sports sites that included statistics showing that 60% of married sports athletes get divorced, so you could argue that Woods’ experience is just par for the course – and is the only time all year he’s been able to shoot par (did I just say that – ouch!) Perhaps now Woods can turn his once-considerable focus to his game, and get it together in time for the Ryder Cup.

– Let me start this next segment with the obvious: the fact that Kyle Busch was able to win all three of the NASCAR touring series races held at Bristol this weekend is a testament to his impressive driving skills. Stock car racing is truly a team sport, and the only common element to the teams that won the Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series, and Camping World Truck races was the guy in the seat. It’s never been done since the Truck was added in 1995 and frankly, Busch is the only guy who’s even gotten close. So, congratulations, Kyle. But Busch’s success begs a larger question: why are guys who race Sunday at the highest level of their sport even allowed to race in the support series? Most of the current Cup series stars worked their way up through the lower series, but once they get to the top, that ought to be their goal. Lord knows no other sport allows it – can you imagine Albert Pujols moonlighting as the first baseman for the Cardinals’ Double-A squad? Now, you can’t blame the drivers – most would race anywhere anytime for nothing – but you can certainly blame NASCAR. This is all about the Benjamins, baby – they spend a lot of time cultivating the drivers’ images, and they want to maximize the exposure for their sponsors. There is a backlash brewing, though, and Busch’s victories will only stoke the flames. Your move, NASCAR …

– The Manhattan Beach Open volleyball tournament was held this weekend … or at least something they said was the Open. I’ve been going to the MBO for a lot of years – it’s beach volleyball’s biggest event – and this didn’t look anything like what I’m used to. Where there is usually rows of vendors and a huge stadium court, there was just nets – seemingly hundreds of them – and people – seemingly dozens of them. The change came in the wake of the demise of the AVP, the beach volley organizing body that declared bankruptcy on the eve of the Open. Credit the city fathers and the California Beach Volleyball Association for stepping up and insuring that there would be a 50th edition of the Open, although they created a bit of a controversy by scrapping the fan-friendly AVP (and worldwide professional volleyball sanctioning body FIVB) rules in favor of slower, old-school rules. That resulted in most of the former AVP pros staying away. Ironically, one who did opt to play was Sean Rosenthal, who partnered with fellow AVP ex-pat Aaron Wachfogel to take the men’s draw. On the ladies side, the team of Tealle Hunkus and Heather Lowe (who?) were victorious. Each team split $4,000 – a far cry from the $20K the AVP event would have provided the winner. But they still get their names on the pier, and that’s the important part. Not sure what’s left for the future, but as I look at the official yellow-and-while Wilson AVP tour volleyball I have here in the Home Office, I can’t help but be sad.

Spiked …

You’d never know it to look at me, but I am a child of the beach. I live a mile and a half from the Hermosa Beach Pier, and, save my college years in Riverside, this is the furthest I’ve lived from the ocean in my life. It’s a culture I embrace, and a livestyle I enjoy, even if I do it mostly from the sidelines.

Living at the beach, it’s impossible to miss one of the most prominent sports played there – beach volleyball. Whether an after-work jungle ball matchup or a serious weekend tourney, volleyball nets dot the sand and are in use more often than not. For those who play at an elite level, there are even professional beach volleyball tours where the best players can earn a living playing the game they love.

The game comes in many forms, depending on how many people you have on a team, but the most exciting – and telegenic – version is 2-man (or woman). With only two people to cover all that sand, it leads to exciting digs and dives and spikes. The professional 2-Man tour has been around for decades, and for the last 23 years has been organized by the AVP – the Association of Volleyball Professionals – which brought order to the chaotic beach tour, bringing both genders into the same events, developing sponsors, arranging television coverage, and introducing flocks of landlocked new fans to the sport through a national tour that criss-crossed the country year-round.

Twice a year, the AVP Tour would visit the South Bay beaches – home turf for the majority of the players. Everyone wanted to win Hermosa, because it was their hometown event, and Manhattan, because it was the Wimbledon of their sport. Hermosa Beach is in the books, but the Manhattan Beach Open will take on an entirely new look this weekend, because the AVP has folded its tent and cancelled the remainder of the season.

“On behalf of AVP staff we want to express our sincere gratitude to fans, players, partners and sponsors,” said Jason Hodell, AVP CEO. “Words cannot express our profound disappointment.”

“Through the course of this investor search we have encountered individuals and groups with intelligence, common sense and a passion for the game of beach volleyball,” said Mike Dodd, AVP commissioner. “Unfortunately, the time constraints were such that pulling the trigger on the amount of money necessary to salvage this season were too great. Ironically this sad news comes as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Manhattan Open, our sport’s crown jewel and the one event that showed us all we could dream big. The Open has seen its ups and downs over the years and always persevered. I’m sure our sport will do the same.”

I guess this shows what happens to what is essentially a fringe sport in difficult economic times. Beach volleyball rode the wave created by Olympic success – and little swimsuits – as far as they could, but in the end the wave broke on a rocky shore. The game will go on, of course – this weekend’s iconic Manhattan Beach Open is being run as an “old-school” tournament by the city (a decision that is not without it’s own controversy) – and the Americans will once again compete for gold in two years at London. But they’re going to have to go abroad to earn their spot on the Olympic team, and to earn a living, and that’s a sad statement for all of us who love the sport.

They say there are no bad days at the beach, but there are sad days, and this is definitely one of them. There’s a lot I’m gonna miss about the AVP … Geeter doing the worm … Kerri dominating the net … Rachel’s butt

As Chris Marlowe always used to say to end the AVP telecasts, “The beach … is closed.”

Au Revoir, Lance!

Another Tour de France is in the books, and while it should be noted that Alberto Contador successfully defended his title from last year (giving him three in the last four years), this race will be remembered as the last ride of a legend.

I don’t think you can overestimate the impact of Lance Armstrong on the sport of cycling. Professional cycling has always been big in Europe, where the Grand Tours all exist, but outside the region there was scant attention paid. Even when Greg LeMond made his splash in the late ’80s, winning three Tours de France, the spotlight on the sport was brief.

Armstrong was always different. A triathlete by training who seemingly was too bulky to be a successful cyclist, Armstrong nevertheless was a rising star in the early ’90s, winning stages of the Tour in ’93 and ’95 as well as the national and world Cycling Championships in 1993. Riding for the powerful Motorola team in 1996, he surprisingly dropped of the Tour de France during Stage 7, and later was able to place no higher than sixth in the two races he entered in the Atlanta Olympics that fall. It was only a few weeks later that he was diagnosed with his now-famous cancer.

Lance’s survival, recovery and subsequent dominance of his sport are well-documented. Considered by most to be fortunate if he survived Stage 3 testicular cancer, Armstrong rebuilt his ravaged body into that of a cyclist and won a record seven consecutive Tour de France events. After several years away from the sport, he returned last year with the Astana team – joining Contador and many of his US Postal Service / Discovery Channel teammates and managers – and placed a very respectable third. Opting to form his own team away from Contador, Armstrong brought his new Team Radio Shack to France hoping to improve on last year’s result and possibly add to his win total.

Alas, that was not to be. Age has a way of catching up with us all, even elite athletes – and for them, often in the most public of moments. For Lance, age caught up with the now-38-yr-old cyclist on the first mountain stage of this year’s Tour, where a combination of mechanical failure, bad luck and old legs left him far behind the much younger leaders. To his credit, he rode out the Tour, even challenging for the win of a mountain stage later in the race, but the comeback is over and an amazing career is at an end.

Back to Contador for a moment. If you’re into conspiracy theory, here’s an interesting one for you. Contador won his first of three Tours in 2007 riding for the now-Armstrong-less Discovery Team and manager Johan Bruyneel. His second win came alongside Armstrong and with Bruyneel leading the Astana team. This year, while Bruyneel, Armstrong and Team Radio Shack took the team victory in the Tour, Contador was the overall classification winner for Astana – his “Kobe without Shaq” moment, if you will. Now that Lance has hung up his spandex shorts for the last time, TRS and Bruyneel need a leader – and Contador, riding for the perpetually underfunded Astana team, might be just the guy.

I’m just sayin’ …

Monday Sports Rant

I am scattered in about a dozen different directions these days, a fact best demonstrated by the lack of attention this blog is receiving.  We’re working on that; in the meantime, a quick sports rant …

– The biggest sporting event in the world came to an end yesterday with the final match of the 2010 World Cup, pitting Spain against Holland.  Neither team had won the Cup previously, but both came to the final game undefeated and ready to make history.  Unfortunately, as is too often the case in sport, the game couldn’t live up to the hype.  Through 90 minutes, the only records made were the number of penalties given and yellow cards issued – each side only had a handful of realistic scoring chances.  For the first time in the tournament, the pressure of the moment was apparent to both squads, and they played very tight.  Credit Spanish netkeeper and team captain Iker Casillas for keeping the Dutch scoreless – his performance made it clear it was just a matter of time until the Spanish scored what you knew would be the only goal of the game.  That moment came 26 minutes into extra time, as a Dutch turnover lead to a shot by Andres Iniesta that a diving Dutch goalie could only get a fingertip on.  The good news is that it kept us from deciding the Copa del Mundo on PKs … but that’s where it ends.   See you in four years in Brazil …

– As someone who can see 50 in the rear-view mirror, I can tell you that there’s very little good about growing old.  The only consolation we all can take is the realization that it’s gonna happen to us all.  Among those who tend to ignore this reality are elite athletes, who continually delude themselves into believing they can somehow cheat Father Time.  The latest elite athlete to have that particular bubble popped is Lance Armstrong, who came face to face with the reality of age yesterday in the Alps.   Through his long career, Lance used his superior conditioning to punish his rivals in the mountains, taking big bites out of them and putting them far enough behind to be unable to recover.  But now, at 38, the riding shoe is on the other foot.  On the first real mountain day of this year’s Tour, and a blistering hot one at that, Armstrong saw his podium hopes crumble as he was caught up in several crashes and in visible pain on the final climb.  At the end, he lost over 12 minutes to the new leader Cadel Evans, and nearly as much to the other overall classification challengers.  Armstrong admitted his tour was done, and said he’d continue to ride to support his team.  That’s very important if he hopes to establish his Radio Shack team as more than a one-time Tour flash, as well as finishing his career on as high a note as possible.  Freed of the need to challenge for the lead, Armstrong could opt to try for a stage victory, something he often passed on to preserve his overall chances.   It would be a fitting end to a heroic career, and a far better image than the bloodied, exhausted rider we saw yesterday.

– Lookout, Miami – the LeBron James Circus has come to town.  In an announcement anchoring an hourlong special on ESPN, the free agent shared his decision to sign with the  Miami Heat, joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to create what they all hope will be a new super-team.  As a Lakers fan, all I can say is, “bring it on”.  In the aftermath, there’s been a lot of talk about the decision – and the method chosen to announce it.  Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, obviously feeling jilted by James lashed out at him in a particularly harsh fashion, attracting comparison to a slave owner by Jesse Jackson and earning himself a $100,000 fine from the NBA.  Clearly his rant was over the top, but I can appreciate the sentiment of Gilbert and all fans of Cleveland who feel a sense of betrayal.  Certainly, James was well within his rights to “take his skills to Miami,” as he put it, but either he or more likely his people made a lot of mistakes along the way.  While he claims to have made the decision to join the Heat only a day before, it was clear long ago that he was leaving Cleveland.  No one can blame him for that choice, but leaving the Cavs – and their fans – twisting in the wind was a mistake.  Ditto the whole “Decision” special.  James clearly understands image and the money that can be made from it (I’m sure somewhere there’s a copyright mark next to that whole “powder toss” stupidity …), but booking an hour on ESPN – and having his people collect all the money from the advertisements – leaves a very bitter taste in a lot of mouths.  The Heat will be good next year, and probably very good, but James has created a lot of baggage that the team will be forced to drag along with it on its way to next years’ finals beating by the Lakers.

Drive-By Sports Rant

My life is crazy right now … who even has time for sports … but you gotta do what you gotta do …

–  Are you a soccer fan yet?  Didn’t think so.  Lots of folks pointing to the run by the US side in the current World Cup tourney as some kind of turning point, but I’m not convinced.  Right or wrong, the perception of the typical American sports fan is someone of low intelligence and short attention span – and perceptions tend to be based on fact.  We don’t take to hockey, which is essentially the same sport on ice with a smaller playing stage, even though it’s faster paced and has more scoring – and violence.  The likelihood that we’d embrace soccer after that seems small – and remember, we have the largest youth soccer program in the world.  Some things are just not meant to be.

–  That said,  I am a soccer fan, and have been following the Copa del Mundo pretty closely.  The Americans blew a golden opportunity when they came out flat and got beat by Ghana in the round of 16 – they had a pretty easy path for the next couple of games if they’d just bore down.  Defense looked old and forwards ineffective, and that will tend to get you a quick ticket home.  But it could be worse – we could be the English squad …

–  Am I the only one sick of the whole “where’s LeBron going next” saga?  Sure he’s a great player and all, but he’s not the second coming – although you’d never know it from the way teams have effectively gutted their rosters to make room for him and his hand-picked buddies.  If you believe the sources, Chicago has the inside track, but New York, New Jersey, Miami and even the Clippers are making a push.  Meanwhile, despite the fans pleas, I think Cleveland is resigned to losing their star and being relegated to the trash dump.  It was a good, but not great run, CavFan – but you can always watch your boy on TV … albeit in a different jersey …

–  The hammer finally fell on Marlins manager Fredi Gonzales, and while I was caught off guard by the timing, I’m not surprised by the act.  With players like Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson signed to big contracts, and the new stadium coming soon, the Fish know the future is now.  But hanging out in fourth place won’t keep you in a job, and so Fredi’s out.  The Marlins have made a habit in recent years of being the training ground for new managers (such as the Yankees’ Joe Girardi), and so look for Fredi to be in the mix as the new Braves skipper next year when Bobby Cox steps down.  Meanwhile, the search is on for a new manager in Miami, and the most intriguing name so far is current ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine.  Personally, I like the pick, and a couple of days ago he seemed like a dead lock for the job.  It doesn’t seem quite so sure now, so we’ll just wait and see … as the Fish keep on sinking deeper in the East.

Don’t Be Stupid, Stupid …

I’m not in the sports prediction business, but I think there’s pretty good chance the Lakers will win tonight’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and be crowned champions of the basketball world.  A much easier prediction to make is that if the first one comes true, a large number of people will be rioting in the streets outside Staples Center, with one or more being crowned Dumbass of the Day.

I’ve never completely understood why it is that people riot when they win.  I get the whole righteous indignation leading to urban violence – Rodney King or Watts or May Day or any number of other injustices leave people angry and frustrated, and that rock at their feet seems like a pretty good release.   But how exactly is it that what ought to be a joyous celebration –  wisely monitored by the authorities – becomes a reason to smash and loot?

Back in the day, Staples Center stood out among the blighted region immediately south of Downtown LA.  There were abandoned buildings surrounding the place, and a huge parking lot on the north side.  People could still get onery, but they had to walk a pretty good distance before they ran into anything of substance, and one hoped that the frustration level was mitigated by the exercise.   In spite of that, when the Lakers won the title in 2000, looters destroyed a pair of police cars and damaged 70 other vehicles.

Now, however, Staples is the centerpiece of the “LA Live” complex.  New restaurants and upscale businesses surround the place, and that parking lot is now the Nokia Theatre – there’s a whole lot to break these days.  After last year’s victory, a crowd of knuckleheads got rowdy outside Staples, starting fires and throwing rocks – and that was with the game having been in Orlando.

As you might imagine, the police presence will be pretty significant tonight.  LAPD Chief Charlie Beck plans on having 4 to 5 times the number of police on hand this year compared to last, and the LA County Sheriff has several hundred deputies on call should backup be required. 

The eyes of the media world will be on LA tonight – for once, let’s not embarass ourselves.

Upon Further Review …

The cry of outrage over last night’s blown umpire call that ruined a perfect game has been every bit as loud as you might imagine. As predicted, umpire Jim Joyce has been the target of a lot of venom and abuse in the media, and that’s understandable. But a series of events since the moment have turned him into something of a sympathetic figure, and have led me to support an idea I never thought I’d embrace.

We all saw the play – the game was covered by no less than 5 broadcast teams, and there’s several mashups of the final call on YouTube. Ground ball … flip to first … safe! The replays clearly show the runner was out by a half-step and Joyce made the wrong call. But it’s worth noting that none of the announcers broadcasting the game thought he was out initially – they, like Joyce himself, thought it was a close “tie goes to the runner” call. Only after seeing the review did anyone realize what had happened. I myself was watching the game, and having seen Miguel Cabrera and his less-than-impressive work ethic in Florida for several years, my first thought was that his lazy ass just didn’t get rid of the ball fast enough (for the record, he ought to have tossed it when Armando Galarraga was approaching first base, rather than waiting until he got there – he made the play a lot closer than it should have been). It was a bang-bang play, and he just got it wrong.

What really makes things amazing to me is the reaction of the two key players in the drama – umpire Joyce and pitcher Galarraga. Every baseball fan has seen disputes between players and umpires, and it always goes the same way – the player is outraged, and the umpire is unmoved. It doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong – neither is ever willing to give an inch, or to acknowledge error.

In this case, when Galarraga saw Joyce give the “safe” sign, he smiled – not a smirk, but a smile of serenity … of fate. He was angry, he was disappointed … but accepting. He didn’t get throw his glove or get in the face of the umpire (that was saved for Tigers manager Jim Leyland and the rest of the infielders) – he simply composed himself and got out the next man to end the game.

Joyce, too, reacted in a way you might never expect – he admitted his error. More than that, he owned it. Clearly distraught after the game, he went down to the Tigers locker room afterwards to meet with and apologize to Galarraga personally – shocking, in light of the recent antics of fellow umpires Angel Hernandez and Joe West. He accepted responsibility for his mistake, talked to the media, and took his place behind the plate for today’s game, despite an offer to take the day off. While nothing can undo the error, his reaction to is has been as honorable as the rest of his twenty-year career.

“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the [stuff] out of it,” Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires’ locker room. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

As I indicated yesterday, I do not support using instant replay for cases such as this. Umpires like players are human and make mistakes, and in my mind, the perfect game could just as easily been lost by Cabrera letting the ball pass through his legs. That said, there is a rare opportunity for a form of redo that I believe is worth considering.

The Commissioner of Baseball has the ability to make rulings and overturn results “for the good of the game”. I believe this is a perfect opportunity to do just that. Reversing the blown call will not give Galarraga or his teammates the opportunity to celebrate his perfect game, nor the fans the chance to witness history. But it would correct two wrongs. First, by changing two at-bats in last night’s game (changing the last hit to an out and negating the final at-bat), Armando Galarraga would take his rightful place alongside Roy Halliday and Dallas Braden as the owner of a perfect game. Perhaps more important, he would give Jim Joyce a graceful way to avoid having his entire career – one that many players have stated publicly is among the best of the best – relagated to a footnote compared to this one mistake. It’s the right answer for the two men and the game, and is one rare case where I believe such post-game meddling is justified.

UPDATE: As usual whenever Bud Selig has the chance to make a decision (think “ending the All-Star game as a tie”), he’s made the wrong one. Instead of righting a wrong, he’s going to throw the entire umpire community under the bus by advocating additional use of instant replay:

“While the human element has always been an integral part of baseball, it is vital that mistakes on the field be addressed,” Selig said in a statement. “Given last night’s call and other recent events, I will examine our umpiring system, the expanded use of instant replay and all other related features.”

Nice leadership, Bud …