Today's Names to Know: Cubs. Phillies.
This is an utterly phenomenal baseball playoff field.
All 8 teams present must-watch storylines. I'm not sure there's ever been a playoff field this loaded -- this guaranteed -- to have something dramatic end up as the result. Let me rank the Top 6 potential outcomes for a World Series Champ:
(1) Cubs: Eclipses everone and everything else. Would be the nationally shared sports event of the last 20 years, easily eclipsing the Red Sox winning in 2004.
(Ideally, for maximum ratings, the Cubs would beat the Red Sox. But the Yankees would work nicely too. The Cubs beating the Indians would be kind of sad. The Cubs beating the Angels would be fine. Hey: If the limp Cards can win a title last year, then this Cubs team can win now.)
(2) Indians: If only because, next to the Cubs, they've had the longest drought without a World Series title (or any meaningful title).
(3) Phillies: Because Phillies fans deserve it. Ideally, they too would beat the Red Sox or Yankees to get it done, if only to ease
(5) Yankees or Red Sox: Please don't let this happen. Please don't let this happen. Please don't let this happen. The rest of us just wouldn't be able to take the jacked-up levels of pre-existing smugness.
(6) D'backs or Angels: The least appealing champs (Angels-D'backs in the World Series would be a complete dud, from a "national event" perspective), but this champ would stake its claim as the best baseball team of the decade, with TWO World Series titles. Not unsubstantial.
NLDS: Cubs d. D'backs (5); Phils d. Rox (5)
ALDS: Sox d. Angels (5); Indians d. Yanks (5)
LCS: Phils d. Cubs (7); Indians d. Sox (7)
WS: Indians d. Phillies in 7
* - Last year, I believe I was wrong on every single series. So I guess you could call these my aspirational picks. This is for another time, but I'm not sure how I feel about the Cubs winning the World Series. It'll create a time-space continuum wormhole.
I don't think I'm crazy to say that while I'd love to see it, I think it would permanently ruin one of the strongest foundational myths of the sport: The Cubs' annual futility. Like I said about the Red Sox winning it all in 2004: Congratulations! You're now as "special" of a franchise as the Angels or Diamondbacks.
Dean of MSM baseball columnists Tom Boswell sums up the playoff field nicely here (although, as usual, he's a wee bit too bullish on baseball's place in the national conversation).
On to the other news of the day. More of Today's Names to Know: Isiah Thomas. Michael Vick. Willie Randolph. Tim McClelland. Carlos Pena. Dmitri Young. Andruw Jones.
Isiah and MSG found guilty, Dolan and MSG will pay $11.6 million in damages: The real damages, TBD, will come from the NBA. With the guilty verdict in the books, it slides into David Stern's domain, where "punitive damages" might have a little more teeth than mere dollars.
Mike Vick takes an 8-hour PETA course about... empathy: The thought of this is funnier than any SNL sketch of the past 10 years.
Willie Randolph will be back with the Mets: Seeing how he's coming off managing the worst collapse in MLB history, presumably the driving force behind his return was the good news is that things can't possibly get worse.
Rockies/Replay, Cont'd: Great discussion in the comments yesterday about instant replay in baseball. The fact that ump Tim McClelland insists he'd call the play the exact same way if he had another chance PROVES that the sport needs instant replay. Even with the benefit of watching a replay himself, he still makes the wrong call. WTF?!
Carlos Pena, Dmitri Young win MLB Comeback Players of the Year: Young was particularly impressive, given his various off-field problems (drugs, crime) and the fact that he was all but out of baseball a year ago.
Red Sox leave Tim Wakefield off the ALDS roster: First of all, he's not ready to contribute. Second, they don't need him in a 5-game series anyway.
Braves part ways with Andruw Jones: He's one of those players who will look very odd in another team's uniform.
Mitch Cozad gets 7 years for stabbing his
NFL "C" captain patches: There's an article in today's WashPost about the new NFL thing where team captains wear "C" patches on their jerseys. In hockey, this is awesome and distinctive; in the NFL, this is stupid-looking and lame. Here's the link.
NASCAR: Dario Franchitti is coming to NASCAR, which means that Ashley Judd is coming to NASCAR, which needs no further explanation.
Meanwhile, Busch will be replaced by Nationwide as the title sponsor of the AAA/JV/B-league series in the sport.
Video Games: NBA Live 08 releases! Anyone get this on the release day yesterday? How was it? I might get it just because it has my favorite pro athlete Gilbert Arenas on the cover.