WINNING & MUSING…VOLUME 3.21 

Y’all know that I try to keep the sports content to a minimum during the football season due to our weekly picks, but since a) we haven’t done WM since February, and b) there are other things besides football to discuss, I’m going to suspend my own rule. Rest assured there is plenty of other content in the hopper for those that don’t enjoy ball games & such as much as the rest of us. 

The baseball playoffs have begun. In the American League it’s the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, & Boston Red Sox, while the National League has the Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, San Francisco Giants, & Los Angeles Dodgers. I had thought I’d watch a lot more baseball this season after the virus-shortened, empty stadium anomaly of 2020, but oddly enough I think I’ve watched even less. The Manoverse knows that I’m a lifelong Pittsburgh Pirates fan, which means I had absolutely no interest in or reason to watch many games this year. I try to find some level of enthusiasm for the playoffs and choose one or two teams to cheer for. I wasn’t sure that was going to be possible this year, but thankfully the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game, so that’s something.

I haven’t really made a big deal out of my feelings about COVID related subjects like vaccines, masks, & mandates outside of the meme zone that is my Instagram because…well, just because. I have very strong opinions, but realize there are folks with polar opposite views. It is what it is and I see no reason to argue about it or negatively impact relationships I value. That being said, it has been announced that mandates in California & New York will require players and fans attending basketball games to be fully vaccinated. I assume hockey players & fans will be affected as well, especially since Canada has already become an outright fascist hellhole anyway. For the first time in my life I am not envious of people living in big cities with access to professional sports venues. I can’t wait to hear the spin when NBA & NHL players and vaccinated fans start testing positive like crazy for The Sickness. Oh sure, they are unlikely to end up dead or even hospitalized, but of course there is a 98% chance they wouldn’t have gotten that ill without the “vaccine”. Atleast I’ll be able to enjoy the games in the freedom & comfort of my own abode. 

Congratulations to Team USA for bringing home the Ryder Cup. I didn’t watch as much of the competition as I’d anticipated, and I think that had a lot to do with guys like Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, & Phil Mickelson being absent while newer players like Colin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, & Daniel Berger took center stage. I’m old enough to remember Ryder Cup teams featuring legendary golfers like Tom Kite, Lee Trevino, Raymond Floyd, & Fuzzy Zoeller, so I just need to get used to these fresh faces. 

Okay okay, my intention was to stay away from football at this particular moment, but I don’t think I can. There is an elephant in the room that needs addressed, and that is my Pittsburgh Steelers. Hindsight is 20/20, and in an effort to think positive I had them as a playoff team in my season preview. Sadly I do not think that is going to happen. QB Ben Roethlisberger is getting most of the blame, which isn’t totally fair. Yes, he is showing his age. At 39 years old he has certainly declined and definitely isn’t performing at the same level as contemporaries like Drew Brees (who still looked pretty decent last season at 42 before retiring), 37 year old MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady, who is apparently a 44 year old unicorn. That being said, it must be noted that the Steelers are starting a very young offensive line that hasn’t jelled into the cohesive unit one would prefer. Big Ben was never fleet of foot, but once upon a time he had a unique escapability that allowed him to keep a play alive long enough to make something happen, and that skill has diminished significantly. All of this has affected the perception of RB Najee Harris, Pittsburgh’s first round draft pick. It doesn’t help that former starting tailback James Conner has amassed 172 yards & 4 touchdowns in four games while being the Arizona Cardinals’ backup compared to Harris’ 185 yards & one TD. Do I think drafting Harris was a mistake?? I’m not ready to go there just yet, but I understand the opinion of some that the team should’ve used that pick on an elite lineman. At any rate, whether one chooses to blame Roethlisberger, Harris, head coach Mike Tomlin, or GM Kevin Colbert the fact is that the Steelers are probably facing their first losing season since 2003. I don’t believe that backup quarterbacks Mason Rudolph & Dwayne Haskins are the answer, so even if Roethlisberger retires and a quarterback is taken in the draft we’re probably looking at another tough season next year. At this point my hope is that 2023 will find the team with a young QB we can believe in, an experienced offensive line, the core of the defense intact (mainly linebacker TJ Watt & safety Minkah Fitzpatrick), Najee Harris at full throttle, and the receiving corps of JuJu Schuster, Chase Claypool, & Diontae Johnson still in Black & Gold. Perhaps then we’ll have something to cheer about. 

NASCAR is also in the midst of its “playoffs”, a system I’m still not sold on. There are 12 drivers left in the chase for the championship, and honestly I don’t have any feelings one way or another about most of them. I have paid a bit more attention to racing than baseball the past several months, but that is damning with faint praise. Not only is Dale Earnhardt dead & Tony Stewart retired, leaving me with no one I’m really invested in cheering for, but Jimmy Johnson & Jeff Gordon are also retired, so there is a lack of villains to dislike outside of Kyle Busch.  There are five races left, and I suppose I’ll check out bits & pieces of them, but mostly my eyes will be glued to NFL Redzone every Sunday. 

Winning & Musing…Volume 1.20

Football is over (mostly). Pitchers & catchers have reported. March Madness is right around the corner, and before it arrives we’ll have the Daytona 500. We have a lot on our plate folks…it’s a veritable sport-asbord. Well okay…that’s probably not a word that’s going to become anything, so let’s just jump on in.

 

 

 

 

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Super Bowl. A few thoughts:

*Congrats to the Kansas City Chiefs. I thought they’d win their division, but I also assumed they’d fall short in the playoffs. Thankfully the New England Patriots FINALLY showed some chinks in their armor and the Chiefs were able to take advantage and take home their first Lombardi Trophy in a half century. Well done.

*As much as I like Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes he should not have won Super Bowl MVP. That award rightly belonged to RB Damien Williams, who averaged over 6 yards/carry and had a touchdown. I know how these things work…Mahomes was destined to be the MVP no matter what if his team won. That’s just how it is. It’s a better story. But let’s be honest…Mahomes didn’t really get things going until the 4th quarter. Williams was consistent the entire game.

*The only commercial that even registered with me was the Jeep ad featuring Bill Murray in a Groundhog Day spoof. Citizens of The Manoverse may recall that I adore Groundhog Day, and since the big game just so happened to take place on the “holiday” it was simply perfect.

*Unlike a lot of older church folk I was not overly offended by the halftime show featuring Shakira & Jennifer Lopez. It was just about what I expected. There are a ton of more musically gifted artists that the NFL could have booked for the gig, but that’s not what the halftime show is about. Occasionally the ideas of musicality & showmanship intersect…Paul McCartney (2005), Michael Jackson (1993), Bruno Mars (2014), Prince (2007)…but more often than not they are two separate concepts. People must realize that the NFL isn’t going to drag The Mormon Tabernacle Choir or The Gaither Vocal Band out onto the field to sing hymns for the Super Bowl halftime show.

 

 

I was never a big fan of Kobe Bryant during the two decades he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, and I was harsh on him when circumstances dictated. However, sports fans do tend to enjoy aging athletes going out on a high note even if we’ve cheered against them their entire career, and Kobe’s 60 point game in his NBA swan song a few years ago was epic. In retirement he had transformed into a doting Dad, and really, who could dislike that?? To call the helicopter crash that killed Kobe tragic seems like an understatement. Nine people lost their lives, including three teenage girls, with one of those being Bryant’s daughter Gigi. I don’t believe in deifying athletes, but I also understand that it is difficult for human beings to wrap our mind around such a heartbreaking catastrophe. It made me sad to learn that Bryant had a disagreement with his parents & siblings a few years ago and wasn’t on speaking terms with them at the time of his passing. I cannot even imagine the pain that his family, along with the loved ones of the others killed in the crash, must be going thru.

 

 

Congratulations to the LSU Tigers for winning their third national title since 2003 (all three coming under a different head coach). It seemed inevitable, especially in the latter part of the regular season, but getting past the Clemson Tigers in the championship game was no easy feat. Would the Ohio St. Buckeyes (who were upset by Clemson in the semifinal) have given the Bayou Bengals a tougher fight?? Perhaps, but it’s folly to speculate. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron has certainly paid his dues in the sport, seems like a genuinely decent man, and is a perfect fit in his home state of Louisiana.

 

 

Zach beat me in our bowl picks. He was 28-13, while I went 22-19. Picking Ohio State to win the national championship didn’t help my situation since they essentially lost two games for me. However, the good news for yours truly is that I did come out ahead in our season long Pigskin Picks of Profundity. I was 61-43, while Zach finished with a .500 record of 52-52. As always a big thank you to my nephew for playing our silly little game. It’s all in good fun. There’s no money involved. We’re just two football fans who enjoy a good challenge.

 

 

With pitchers & catchers having reported now seems like a good time to weigh in on the sign stealing scandal that cost three MLB managers…AJ Hinch (Houston Astros), Alex Cora (Boston Red Sox), & Carlos Beltran (New York Mets)…their jobs. Cora was a bench coach for the Astros a few years ago while Beltran was a player for the team. To say that the situation “rocked baseball” feels inaccurate, since MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has taken very little action. Pete Rose was banned from baseball for betting on his own team (which obviously means he didn’t throw games), while the Astros won a World Series by blatantly cheating, yet none of those players are facing a ban and there’s no threat of their championship being stripped. Seriously?? Fay Vincent has got to be rolling over in his grave.

The 2017 Sammy Awards – Part 1

Before we get too far into a new year it is time once again to take one final look back at the year that was 2017. This is the seventh presentation of The Sammy Awards, the world’s wittiest fantasy awards show. I’d like to imagine that The Sammys would be streamed on Netflix or Hulu, and could be produced efficiently yet in a tasteful & entertaining manner…less bloated & pompous than some awards programs, but more respectful & sophisticated than others. It is intended to be a year in review, an honest appraisal of the previous twelve months…the fun & the tragedy, the heroic & the forgettable, the sublime & the ridiculous.

 

 

 

Our host this year is fresh off a gig co-hosting CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage that was hotly debated on social media. He is also the host of Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, so we’re pretty confident he can handle the Sammy Awards stage. Please give a warm welcome to Andy Cohen!!

 

 

After some humorous opening remarks from our host this year’s show begins with a musical performance. Because we’re not worried about being hip, cool, lit, or woke it is a huge honor to welcome to the stage…singing a medley of some of his biggest hits…rock music icon Billy Joel!!

 

Wow!! Thanks to The Piano Man…that was off the chain!!

 

To present our first award please give a polite golf clap to three time Masters Champion Phil Mickelson!!

And the nominees are:

 

 

Best Sports Story

 

Tar Heels Title

The conclusion of March Madness saw the North Carolina Tar Heels defeat the Gonzaga Bulldogs to win their sixth NCAA basketball national championship.

 

ESPN Downsizing

This past spring The Mothership in Bristol, CT did a massive personnel purge, ridding themselves of over 100 employees. Among the cuts were familiar faces like MLB reporter Jayson Stark, NFL reporters John Clayton & Ed Werder and analyst Trent Dilfer, college basketball analyst Len Elmore & reporter Andy Katz, college football analyst Danny Kanell, and Sportscenter anchors Jay Crawford & Jade McCarthy.

 

Patriots Win…Again

Ugh. The New England Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl in grand fashion. They completed the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history (25 points) and forced the game into the first overtime on its 50+ year history.

 

Penguins Repeat

The Pittsburgh Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup (and their fifth since 1990) by defeating the Nashville Predators in six games.

 

Clemson Wins Playoff

The Clemson Tigers played in their second straight college football National Championship, both against the Alabama Crimson Tide. But this time they won the title with a very exciting last second touchdown pass from QB Deshaun Watson to WR Hunter Renfrow.

 

Indians Win Streak

They didn’t end up playing in the World Series, but back in August & September the Cleveland Indians had the attention of baseball fans everywhere when they won 22 straight games, a new American League record.

 

JJ Watt’s Philanthropy

After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, TX in August Texans’ All-Pro defensive lineman JJ Watt began a fundraising effort to help the city. His initial goal was $200k. The final tally?? Over $37 million. The NFL has been given a lot of grief the past few years…with good reason. But Watt seems like one of the good guys. Well done sir. Kudos.

 

Warriors Win Another Title

The NBA bores me, but I usually watch the playoffs. Last summer the Golden State Warriors met the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third consecutive year in the NBA Finals. The Warriors were just too much for the Cavs and won the championship in five games.

 

Sergio Wins The Masters

Sergio Garcia has long been saddled with the moniker of “best golfer not to have won a major”. He ended that conversation in April when he defeated Justin Rose in a sudden death playoff at Augusta to finally get the monkey off his back.

 

Dale Jr.’s Retirement

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been NASCAR’s most popular driver since he first began racing in the late 1990’s, grabbing onto the impressive coattails of his famous father and holding on for dear life. He became a tepid substitute for his Dad after Dale Sr.’s tragic death at the 2001 Daytona 500, and soiled his legacy beyond repair in 2008 when he sold out and joined the evil empire of Hendrick Motorsports. Dale Jr. won two Daytona 500s and zero NASCAR Cup championships. In 2016 he missed a big chunk of the season with concussion issues, and last spring announced that he would be retiring after the 2017 season.

 

Astros Win World Series

The Houston Astros were a MLB expansion team in 1962. In 2013 they moved from the National League to the American League due to MLB realignment. They lost over 100 games for three consecutive seasons from 2011-13. But slowly they began to build a contender, and it all came together this autumn when the Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. It was a great story, especially given the circumstances surrounding the city of Houston after Hurricane Harvey, however we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Houston, TX is the fourth largest city in the United States, so this wasn’t exactly a David vs. Goliath upset by small market little guys.

 

Mayweather-McGregor

My nephews love UFC/MMA…aka ultimate fighting or mixed martial arts. A lot of people do. UFC has grown exponentially in the past decade. But I just can’t get into it for whatever reason. At any rate, one of UFC’s champions & biggest stars is brash & outspoken Irishman Conor McGregor. In 2017 he decided he wanted to test himself in a boxing ring, and he challenged Floyd Mayweather Jr., who many consider the greatest boxer alive and who happens to be just as cocky as McGregor. The matchup was a marketing dream come true. Mayweather made over $100 million, while McGregor was paid in excess of $30 million. The sports media slobbered all over themselves for months. Fans paid $100 to watch the fight on PPV. But all along the talking heads admitted that they didn’t foresee a competitive fight and predicted a fairly easy Mayweather victory, which is pretty much what happened. Mayweather probably could have won in the first round, but he let McGregor hang around for ten rounds before winning with a TKO, thus giving fans the illusion that the fight was worth the money they’d spent and the hype surrounding it. I didn’t watch a) because I had absolutely no interest, and b) there is no way in hell I’d pay $100 for anything on PPV.

 

 

 

And the Sammy goes to…..

 

 

 

Mayweather-McGregor. It wasn’t my cup o’ tea, but I recognize that a lot of people watched it and the sports media did a nice job of hyping it up into an event, even though most understood that it probably wasn’t going to be that competitive. And then lo & behold it went ten rounds. Whether you believe that McGregor is really skilled enough to have legitimately kept up with Mayweather for that long or if you take the cynical view that Mayweather made a conscious business decision to allow the fight to last as long as it did doesn’t really matter. The fact is that everyone involved laughed all the way to the bank, and most fans probably don’t regret the time or money they spent. Everybody wins.

 

 

To present a very special award please welcome an Emmy nominated & Golden Globe winning comedian & actor, the star of television hits Home Improvement and Last Man Standing as well as films like Toy Story, Galaxy Quest, & The Santa Clause…Tim Allen!!

 

 

 

 

The Fred Berry Memorial Award for Excellence in Syndication

 

Frasier

For eleven seasons, from 1993 to 2004, Dr. Frasier Crane and his wacky family & work colleagues…effete brother Niles, blue collar father Martin, live-in aide Daphne Moon, flirtatious producer Roz Doyle, bombastic sports radio host Bulldog, oddball co-workers Gil & Noel, and a host of others…came into our living rooms. Frasier Crane had already been with us for a decade, originally appearing on Cheers. Though Frasier was technically a spinoff of Cheers the two shows are very different, albeit similarly well written & both very funny. It may seem blasphemous to some, but I must admit to loving Frasier even more than Cheers. Whereas Cheers took place in a bar, Frasier was about a family, and specifically about an educated, cultured man dealing with all manner of frustrating madness surrounding him. I always felt very connected to Frasier, so it has been a delight this past year to be able to watch a plethora of reruns, usually very late at night, on Hallmark. And they don’t just air one or two episodes. There is…I believe…a three hour block almost every night. I’m not always up that late (or early, depending on one’s perspective), but when I am awake and in a channel surfing mood it is always a pleasure to run across one of my favorite sitcoms of all time. The show has aged remarkably well, and I appreciate the skillfully scripted dialogue & talented cast even more now than I did two decades ago. I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t feel compelled to check out every new TV show that pops up. Most of them don’t seem like my cup o’ tea anyway. Fortunately I am alive in an era when it is fairly easy to go back and enjoy programs of yesteryear that I know I enjoy. Kudos to Hallmark for introducing a whole new generation to the exquisite charm of Frasier, and a tip of the cap to all involved for creating a show that has stood the test of time.

 

 

We are amped to introduce our next presenter. He’s a former ten time World Heavyweight Champion, and upon his retirement from professional wrestling has starred in films like Be Cool, Get Smart, Baywatch, & numerous entries in the Fast & Furious franchise. Do you smell what he’s cookin’?? FINALLY…Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has come to The Sammy Awards!! And the nominees are:

 

 

 

The Twitter Award for Most Interesting Water Cooler Topic

 

Cracker Barrel Fires Brad’s Wife

Nanette Reid was an employee of 11 years at an Indiana Cracker Barrel before she was terminated. Nanette’s husband Brad wanted to know why his wife had been fired, so he made an inquiry on the restaurant’s corporate Facebook page…and things took off from there. #JusticeforBradsWife went viral and lives on.

 

The End of The Circus

After almost 150 years of entertaining the masses Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus put on its last show this past spring. The plethora of 21st century entertainment options as well as politically correct social justice warriors whining about animal abuse led to a decline in profitability and the eventual demise of the circus.

 

Fidget Spinner

I don’t know…it’s some sort of toy for nervous people. I suppose it’s a better option than drugs or homicide.

 

Great American Eclipse

On August 21, 2017 the United States enjoyed a total solar eclipse, the first visible in America since 1979. People gathered in large crowds and some traveled great distances just to see an event that lasted about as long as it takes to go to the bathroom while the ballgame is in a commercial break. I was kind of into it until I found out that viewing the eclipse required special sunglasses or otherwise one might go blind, and by the time I learned that helpful nugget every place was sold out of the glasses so it just became a hassle. However, as I watched the coverage on TV I kind of regretted my laziness. There is another eclipse coming in 2024, so if I’m still around I might make more of an effort.

 

Taking A Knee

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick spearheaded a movement in 2016 by kneeling instead of standing respectfully during the playing of the national anthem before football games. Kaepernick said that he refused to honor the flag of a country that oppresses “people of color”. In other words he was upset about alleged police brutality toward black folks. When Kaepernick found himself unemployed in 2017 (what a shock) other players decided to take up the cause. This upset President Trump, who offered some very blunt opinions on the subject. That caused more players to kneel, so the situation had evolved from protesting perceived racism to a hissy fit by people who don’t like Trump. It became a huge PR nightmare for the NFL. On one hand the United States is built on a foundation of freedom and the ability to express opinions, but conversely these protests are viewed by many as pointless, disrespectful to law enforcement & the military, and a juvenile temper tantrum by millionaires who play a game for a living.

 

iPhone X

Apple’s latest & greatest iPhone…complete with creepy facial recognition technology…went on sale in November (just in time for Christmas!). I’m an iPhone user, but I just upgraded a year ago and the $1000 price point might have finally exceeded my maximum utility.

 

The Royal Engagement

Prince Harry, younger son of Prince Charles & the late deified & beatified Princess Diana, got engaged to a filthy American, an inconsequential & marginally attractive actress named Meghan Markle. Congratulations to the happy couple. I’m sure this will be a bigger story in 2018 as the wedding day approaches this May.

 

United Airlines

On April 9, 2017, police at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago forcibly removed passenger Dr. David Dao from a United flight after he refused to depart the airplane upon the demand of management. Dao screamed as officers pulled him out of his seat, and his face hit an armrest during the struggle. Officers then dragged him, apparently unconscious, by his arms on his back along the aircraft aisle past rows of onlooking passengers. Video & photos of the incident went viral. Apparently the man was one of four passengers selected to be removed from the flight to make room for airline employees needing to get to Louisville. The other three were obviously more…compliant. Dao eventually received a monetary settlement from United. This was not an isolated incident, as similar stories were reported a few other times in 2017.

 

Kathy Griffin’s Career Decapitation

I’ve never found comedian Kathy Griffin funny…at all. She’s not the first person who has built a career out of being obnoxious, and she won’t be the last. Griffin has ticked people off before: she was banned from appearing on The View and Jay Leno’s incarnation of The Tonight Show, got fired from E! after making an inappropriate joke about then 11 year old actress Dakota Fanning, blasphemed Jesus when accepting an Emmy Award, & was banned from performing at New York’s famed Apollo Theater after using profanity. I’m no expert, but being shunned by The View has to be career rock bottom given the loathsome environment that surrounds that show like a noxious gas. However, Kathy Griffin really stepped in it last spring when she posted a video of herself holding the decapitated head of President Trump. The backlash was a little surprising. Since Hollywood hates Trump one might assume that Griffin’s career would reach new heights in the wake of the video, but the commoners in flyover country still wield some influence. She lost marketing deals, was dropped from CNN’s New Year’s Eve show that she’d co-hosted with Anderson Cooper since 2007, and her upcoming comedy tour imploded. Griffin has used social media to cry & moan about how she’s been mistreated in the aftermath of the brouhaha, but the simple fact is that she went too far and it bit her in the tookas.

 

Unicorn Frappuccino

I’ve patronized Starbucks exactly once in my life. I’m not a frequent coffee drinker, and when I do drink a cup I just want a basic, no frills cup o’ joe with some creamer (no sugar). This past spring Starbucks introduced a new addition to their menu…a multicolored drink made with ice, milk, pink powder, sour blue powder, crème frappuccino syrup, mango syrup, and blue drizzle, which sounds absolutely horrifying.

 

O.J.’s Release

OJ Simpson’s arrest & trial for murdering his ex-wife & her waiter friend was one of the biggest stories of the 1990’s. As we all know The Juice was found not guilty and was allowed to resume his dogged pursuit of the real killer. But that life was too boring for OJ, and he was ticked off about having to sell a bunch of his stuff after losing a civil suit brought by the victims’ families, so in 2007 he was arrested after an ill-conceived & poorly executed robbery at a Vegas casino during which he tried to get back some of his sports memorabilia. The following year Simpson was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 33 years in prison. Most legal experts agree that almost anyone else would have been given little more than a proverbial slap on the wrist, especially since all three of the co-defendants pled down to lesser charges. Many opine that Simpson’s conviction & harsh sentence was a “make-up call” after he’d escaped punishment for the 1994 double murder. OJ Simpson served nine years, and this past summer was granted parole. He was released from prison in October.

 

Civil War Monuments

Politically correct whining about Civil War monuments…specifically those erected to honor Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee & Stonewall Jackson…isn’t a new discussion. The debate has heated up the past few years. But arguments reached a fever pitch in 2017 after tragic events saw one person killed and 19 injured at a rally in Charlottesville, VA organized to protest the removal of a General Lee statue. My personal opinion is that these monuments were erected for a reason, and in most cases they honor complex yet worthy individuals who lived during a tumultuous time in our nation’s history and were forced to make some very difficult decisions. Thru the prism of time we recognize their mistakes and understand their errors in judgement, but I don’t feel that it is proper to erase our history. None of this was an issue a hundred years ago, fifty years ago, or even ten years ago, but nowadays we are a country full of easily offended social justice warriors who get their jollies trying to destroy everything about the United States with which they disagree.

 

 

 

And the Sammy goes to…..

 

 

 

Taking A Knee. Most sports fans just want to chill out and enjoy watching the ballgame. They want to argue about which team is better, debate who the best quarterback or wide receiver is, and kvetch about dreadful officiating. They do not want divisive sociopolitical rhetoric ruining their fun, but that’s exactly what’s been happening. It’s the reason ESPN is bleeding money and a contributing factor to declining attendance & TV ratings. The fact is that Colin Kaepernick is a marginally talented quarterback who is no longer worth the baggage that accompanies him…baggage that he created. The fact is that, while there are bad cops out there because there is incompetence in any & all professions, the vast majority of police officers do a fantastic job and should be praised for the dangerous work they do protecting all of us. The fact is that, while there are people that are erroneously & tragically killed by police officers, the odds are that anyone…black, white, Hispanic, Oriental, Middle Eastern, & any other hue one can think of…anyone who finds themselves in the presence of a police officer with a weapon has most likely put themselves in that situation. That’s not to say that those people deserve to be murdered…not at all. But you’ll never drown if you don’t go in the water and you won’t get burnt of you steer clear of fire. So if you’re living life right, obeying the law, & not causing a ruckus there is very little chance that you’ll be shot by a cop. There are 32 NFL teams. With 53 Players on each roster that’s nearly 1700 players. Of those, nearly 900 are convicted felons, which is over half the league. So while I admire their skill & athleticism and enjoy watching them play, forgive me if I have very little regard for their opinions on more serious matters.

 

 

 

 

 

This feels like an appropriate place to pause. Please stay tuned for Part 2!!

Winning & Musing…Volume 6.17

Sorry non-sports fans…there are a few things going on about which I feel compelled to comment. Take heart though…the holidays are coming up soon so there is some fun stuff in the pipeline, and of course there a couple of long term projects that I need to complete plus one or two that I need to actually get started on, so if you’re not into football or basketball stay with me…I won’t forget about y’all.

 

 

 

 

Congratulations to the Houston Astros for winning their first World Series championship. I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in the Series this year, but a disaster was averted when Houston beat the New York Yankees in the ALCS because a Yankees-Dodgers World Series would’ve had zero appeal for me. I know that sounds strange, but as a sports fan I need an underdog, a little engine that could, to root for. I enjoy a good David vs. Goliath story. I realize that’s not how the real world works. In reality the bigger, better entity with more power, money, & influence wins the vast majority of the time in virtually all walks of life. However, part of the romance in sports is that sometimes the little guy actually wins, and that’s not just a fantasy birthed in 1976 with Rocky. In my opinion it’s kind of weak & uninspiring to jump on the Goliath bandwagon. Before this season the Astros hadn’t won a division title since 2001 and had only made the playoffs once since 2005. They’d played in just one World Series since the franchise’s inception in 1962, losing to the Chicago White Sox in 2005. In the past decade they’d had seven losing seasons, including a three year stretch from 2011-13 in which they were a combined 162-324. So even though Houston itself is the 4th largest city in America the Astros have never been among baseball’s elite…until now. It doesn’t hurt that the games themselves were really fun to watch, and anytime we get to a Game 7 in anything it’s pretty cool. I’m sure the L.A. Dodgers will be back in the thick of things next year. They’ll go out and buy a couple of bigtime free agents or make a blockbuster trade. Same with the Yankees. Second place isn’t good enough for such teams. They think that, because of their huge TV market and bottomless coffers, they’re entitled to a trophy. But all of that just makes me yawn.

 

 

Speaking of yawning…

I guess the NASCAR season is almost over?? Honestly I haven’t watched a race since…the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day Weekend…I think. And unlike the past couple of years when I was consciously objecting to NASCAR for various reasons, in 2017 I haven’t even given NASCAR a second thought. I just don’t care. They totally lost me as a fan. Their “playoffs” are stupid, their stage racing is stupid, and their drivers are boring. I’m probably supposed to get all misty & nostalgic about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement, but I don’t care about that either. He’s just a sellout who has never been worthy of carrying his father’s name. Good riddance.

 

 

Dear ESPN: Declining ratings for football has EVERYTHING to do with anthem protests and politics interfering with our enjoyment of sports. Y’all can try to spin things all you want, blaming injuries and weak teams to deflect from the controversy, but just as your ratings have deteriorated due to not-so-subtle sociopolitical propagandizing with which a sizeable portion of the audience disagrees, football is suffering for also promoting a provocative agenda unrelated to the sport that fans tune in to watch. These people are so insufferably full of themselves and impressed with their own intellect that they’ve become totally out of touch with the viewing public.

 

 

It’s still really early in the NBA season, but I can’t help but chuckle at the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers & San Antonio Spurs are off to subpar starts, and the Golden State Warriors have lost more games in the first few weeks of the season than they did before the end of November last year. Perhaps if players & coaches for those teams had spent the offseason appreciating their success and preparing for more of the same instead of flapping their gums and displaying their ignorance about real world issues they’d be winning more games right now. Sadly it is probable that all three teams will be just fine, make deep playoff runs, & battle for the NBA Championship, but I’d like nothing better than for them to struggle all season and make early playoff exits. Just as the NFL is learning, the NBA needs to eventually realize that we just want them to shut their pieholes and play ball.

 

 

As recently noted, I have no issue with the initial College Football Playoff rankings that put Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, & Clemson at the top for the moment. But you can bet that if the final four team field includes two teams from the same conference & an independent and excludes three of the Power 5 conference champions that playoff expansion debates will heat up really quick. We’ve known all along that it would happen eventually. Expansion of the playoff has been inevitable from the beginning. I’d like to see a six team field, with the top two teams receiving a bye, but I assume that what we’ll get at some point is an eight team playoff. I don’t care what the talking heads say…if conferences are going to continue to exist then conference championships need to mean something, otherwise what’s the point??

2010 Major League Baseball Preview

Just about a year ago instead of doing a baseball preview I opted to instead lament the fallen state of “The National Pasttime”. But last week something strange and unexpected happened. I was doing a little channel surfing on a particularly barren night of television and I happened across a Pittsburgh Pirates spring training game…and it made me happy. They lost the game, but that is beside the point. Spring training games don’t count anyway, and being a Pirates fan has made me somewhat desensitized to the effects of losing. What surprised me was that twinge of excitement I felt that baseball was back. I haven’t felt that way in a long long time. I don’t know how long it will last, as I have no misguided hope that my favorite team will end its 17 year losing streak, but for now I will embrace the anticipation and do the full blown preview and prognostication that I just couldn’t find the energy to do last season.

National League

EAST

Philadelphia Phillies              91-71

Atlanta Braves                         89-73

Florida Marlins                       82-80

New York Mets                       71-91

Washington Nationals          64-98

The Phillies lost pitcher Cliff Lee but added perennial All-Star Roy Halladay to the rotation and made no significant changes otherwise, so there is no reason to think they won’t dominate the division yet again. I think the Braves will make a valiant run in honor of their manager Bobby Cox, who is retiring at season’s end. The Marlins have maybe the best player in baseball in Hanley Ramirez, but still most folks believe they overachieved last season and may drop off a bit in 2010. The Mets were riddled with injuries last season and hope to avoid that problem. They have one of the best pitchers around in Johan Santana and added outfielder Jason Bay’s bat to the lineup, but I don’t believe they will be any better this year than last. The Nationals are…well, they are the Nationals. They were the worst team in baseball a year ago and are unlikely to improve significantly at the moment. They have some excellent young talent in the pipeline, but those players are a couple years away from making an impact on the big club.

CENTRAL

St. Louis Cardinals               89-73

Chicago Cubs                         85-77

Milwaukee Brewers             77-85

Cincinnati Reds                    76-86

Pittsburgh Pirates                73-89

Houston Astros                     70-92

The Cardinals are right up there with Philly as the class of the National League and it would be shocking if they didn’t remain on that perch. The hiring of former home run king and apparent steroid user Mark McGwire as the hitting coach caused a bit of a stir in the offseason, but will be a non-story by summer. The Cubs have been so very close, but just can’t get over the hump. The big question in Chicago is the bullpen, so keep an eye on that situation in the first few weeks of the season…it may go a long way to determining the team’s level of success or failure. They did jettison troubled outfielder Milton Bradley, which is addition by subtraction. The Brewers have been making inroads the past few seasons, and this may be the year  they hit the inevitable snag, the lull, the step back before truly leaping forward. The Reds, Pirates, and Astros are all battling to not finish in last place, which is sort of sad. It wasn’t that long ago that Houston was a World Series team, and anyone familiar with baseball’s rich and storied history knows that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have winning traditions but have fallen on hard times.

WEST

Colorado Rockies                   89-73

Los Angeles Dodgers            88-74

San Francisco Giants            87-75

Arizona Diamondbacks       78-84

San Diego Padres                   77-85

I don’t have any logical reason or empirical data to back it up, but I think this is the year the Dodgers fall off a bit. This will still be one of the most competitive races in baseball, likely coming down to the final week. The Giants have finally moved beyond Barry Bonds, and I think that will bode well for them. Pitcher Tim Lincecum anchors the pitching staff and if Barry Zito can regain his stuff that’ll be a huge boost. Colorado is one of those teams that has no true superstars but all they do is win. San Diego and Arizona are complete messes right now and building for the future.

American League

EAST

New York Yankees                 99-55

Boston Red Sox                        93-69

Tampa Bay Rays                      86-76

Toronto Blue Jays                   72-90

Baltimore Orioles                    71-91

It seems like the AL East always comes down to the Yankees and Red Sox. I wish I could say 2010 might be different or exciting, but I have to be honest. The Yankees are able to buy success better than any team in professional sports, and this year they went out and got outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers. They lost Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon as well, but I don’t think those losses will hurt all that much. The poor Red Sox might be the only team in history to be so consistently successful yet finish 2nd most of the time. The Sox lost slugger Jason Bay but added John Lackey to the rotation, so they will still be better than any team in baseball not named the Yankees. Tampa added a much needed closer in Rafael Soriano, but I don’t think it will make much difference. Toronto and Baltimore will once again battle to not finish dead last. The Orioles should show some improvement over last season, but I still like Toronto a little better, even with the loss of Roy Halladay.

CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox                 88-74

Minnesota Twins                    87-75

Detroit Tigers                          81-81

Kansas City Royals               73-89

Cleveland Indians                 61-101

No division in baseball has been more competitive over the past few years. It’s almost always a toss-up as to which of three teams…the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox…will come out on top. A few things have happened this offseason that may…or may not…make the 2010 picture just a little clearer. Most knowledgeable fans expected the Twins to eventually lose All-Star catcher (and one of the top all around players in the league) Joe Mauer to a big market team that could afford a mega million dollar contract. However, Mauer went against conventional wisdom and recently signed an 8 year extension with his hometown club, which is shockingly sweet in such a cynical business. That good news was offset by losing closer Joe Nathan for the season because of an elbow injury. That might prove to be catastrophic for Minnesota’s season in such a tight race. Meanwhile, the Tigers traded away outfielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher Edwin Jackson and added outfielder Johnny Damon. That’s a net loss in my book. The woes befalling Detroit and Minnesota will ultimately benefit the White Sox, who will have the benefit of a full season from late-2009 pitching acquisition Jake Peavy. Kansas City has a good mix of veterans and youngsters, and even though they aren’t quite ready to be considered anywhere near competitive yet they are showing signs of life. Cleveland has reverted back to the laughingstock days that inspired the 1989 film Major League (“What the hell league you been playing in??  California Penal”), and may very well lose 100 games.

WEST

Seattle Mariners                    92-70

Los Angeles Angels              89-73

Texas Rangers                       86-76

Oakland A’s                            77-85

The old saying is “you can’t go home again”. Ken Griffey Jr. is aiming to prove that statement false, and I think he just might do it. Griffey spent the first 10 years of his injury plagued career in Seattle, and returns as a 40 year old man in the twilight of that career. Most likely he will only be asked to DH, and that should work out well. He is just 70 home runs shy of becoming only the 5th player ever to hit 700 for a career (the others are *Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willie Mays), and maybe with a few injury free seasons in Seattle he can get there. Seattle also added pitcher Cliff Lee, which is probably the acquisition more likely to have a significant impact. As a Pirate fan I will be keeping an eye on former Bucs shortstop Jack Wilson and pitcher Ian Snell. Maybe they can finally experience the sweet taste of victory out west. Many baseball pundits seem to be predicting the fall of the three time defending division winner LA Angels, but I am not sure the decline will be too precipitous. They will still be right there at the end, they just have better competition now. The Angels did lose slugger Vladamir Guerrero and pitcher John Lackey, subtractions that will be felt. And no, adding former Yankee Hideki Matsui does not even things out. Speaking of Vlad, he ended up in Texas with the Rangers, which instantly makes that team better. I am not really impressed with the Rangers’ rotation, but maybe their young guns will surprise me. One of the biggest stories to come out of the offseason is the fact that Texas’ manager is apparently a cokehead, so that is a development to keep an eye on throughout the season. Oakland’s only meaningful offseason move was to add pitcher Ben Sheets to the rotation. If Sheets is healed up completely from elbow surgery it will be a quality addition, but the A’s still have a lot of work to do.

In the postseason it looks like we’ll be watching Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, and Atlanta in the National League and the Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, and Mariners in the American League. Another Yankees/Phillies World Series would not at all frost my cupcake as a fan, so I’d like to see either the Rockies or Mariners (or even the Red Sox) somehow defy the odds…but I won’t hold my breath.