Saturday, July 28, 2007

Saturday 7/28 A.M. (Very) Quickie

Bonds 754! One more to tie. Two more to break. Could happen today.

Vick Watch: Nike suspends Vick and Reebok pulls all Vick jerseys out of available inventory. It's arguable that this marketplace signal is far more powerful than any version from the Commissioner or the Law. Money talks.

Or, perhaps not: Tony Taylor is reportedly going to flip on Vick. And, as PFT so elegantly put it: "Vick is scuh-rewed." I concur.

Donovan McNabb cleared to play, practice: One of the Top 5 most anticipated "comeback" stories of the new season. (Portis comes to mind as another.)

On the other side, Randy Johnson's season is over. Next question: Is his career over, too?

NFL signings: Bulger signs. Tons of rookies are signing at the 11th hour before training camps start (as expected... what a lame dance the GMs and agents do about rookies). JaMarcus Russell still a hold-out, which is what you get with the No. 1 overall pick sometimes.

No naming names: Judge won't reveal names in Grimsley case.

What was a Royals player even DOING with a pellet gun in the locker room, let alone shooting it in the vicinity of a TV reporter's face?

Beckham: Another Galaxy DNP?

-- D.S.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Friday 07/27 A.M. Quickie:
Simpsons Mania! Plus: Bonds, A-Rod, CFB, More!

In honor of the Simpsons Movie coming out this weekend, here is the declaration I'm looking for from all of you:

(1) Favorite Simpsons character (no matter how minor)
(2) Favorite Simpsons episode (or scene or song)
(3) Favorite Simpsons quote

I'll start:

Character: Comic Book Guy (Well: OBVIOUSLY)
(Runner up: Lindsay Nagle)

Episode: Cape Feare (Favorite scene/song: Monorail song, "We Put the Spring in Springfield" and the Stonecutters song. I can't decide!)

Quote: "Oh, a *sarcasm* detector. Oh, that's a *really* useful invention." (CBG)

Seriously, I went through this page and laughed out loud probably 90 times out of 100.

Let me just say: It is SO hard to pick just one of each. That's why having everyone collectively contribute will be so awesome. There is no right or wrong: Just laughing.

Oh, there's sports to talk about? Here we go...

Vick Update: Pleads "not guilty." Who else found his (lawyer's) statement to be less than empathetic... or convincing? (What was very convincing: The battling camps between those who came to protest Vick and those who came to support him.)

UPDATE: Darren Rovell says Nike should drop Vick. That's huge. Here is arguably the biggest and most influential voice in sports-business media saying keeping Vick is bad for Nike's business. (He's right, by the way. I think it's "when" not "if" with Nike cutting Vick after this.)

Donaghy Update: Blissfully uneventful. Could this mean that the story will recede as everyone turns their full attention to Vick and Bonds? (Meanwhile, it looks like the bookies are going to be charged. Apparently, Donaghy and the bookie went to the same high school.)

Today's Must-Read: Economist Justin Wolfers had a great NYT op-ed piece today on how to solve the NBA's gambling issue -- legalize win/loss bets and get rid of all side bets like point-spreads and over-unders. True Hoop has a great post, including an exclusive quote from Wolfers. Henry has legit worries about an increase in gambleholism, but that's where it's all going anyway. Why not save sports while you're at it? Legalization: It's Faaan-tastic!

Bonds Update: The biggest news is that a judge will rule today whether MLB giving the names of players implicated in the league's steroid scandal to the Mitchell Commission means that EVERYONE should get to see them. And I suspect the judge will rule just that way. MLB should have seen this coming when they appointed Mitchell and gave him the goodies.

Meanwhile, I love the Bonds-Costas "midget" feud. Can we all agree that while Costas might be widely considered the "conscience" of baseball, his TV show segment on Bonds was intentionally designed to be sensationalistic.

Here was Costas' witty repartee, which I'm quite sure took him all day to construct in order to maximize its pithiness: "As anyone can plainly see, I'm 5-6 1/2 and a strapping 150, and unlike some people, I came by all of it naturally." (Oh, if you INSIST on me typing it: Zing!)

MLB Hall of Fame: Ripken and Gwynn represent one of the great Hall classes of all time. No disputes to their worthiness. Both extremely good, popular guys.

I would rank Ripken as one of my two favorite players of all-time. His breakout season in 1983 dovetailed with my first real memories of baseball, and his long career tracked with my path of fanhood. Being able to go to a lot of Orioles games and see Ripken play was one of my great memories of my youth.

(I would, however, like for someone today or this weekend to bring up the legendary story about "The Night The Lights Went Out at Camden." According to the (incredibly dubious yet highly believable) urban legend, Ripken caught his wife with Kevin Costner, got in a fight and it got to the point that he couldn't play that night. Well, god forbid the Streak would end, so the lights of Camden Yards mysteriously malfunctioned, and the game had to be postponed. Ripken's streak lived on. Again: This is myth, but one of the great urban legends in baseball history. It wouldn't be a Ripken Hall of Fame induction weekend without it being re-told and celebrated.)

MLB Stud: Manny.

MLB Dud: Utley.

MLB Signing: Comeback Player of the Year Dmitri Young will apparently sign a two-year deal to stay with the Nats. Nice story for a team that could always use an extra one.

MLB Intrigue: Here's a weird one. If A-Rod hits a home run today against Baltimore in the resumption of their June 28 game, his home run would be credited to that June 28 game, making his HR No. 499 from two nights ago "officially" his HR No. 500.

Pat Tillman Update: The Pat Tillman story makes me so heart-sickeningly sad that it's hard for me to point out updates to it, because they all get worse and worse. The latest: It appears he was shot – by friendly fire – from no further than 10 yards away. The "10 yard" symbolism (in addition to the implications of a horrifying reality) only adds to the tragedy.

NFL Training Camp: Will Marc Bulger show up? Will Asante Samuels show up? Will high-profile draftees show up? The first days of training camp are always about the holdouts – and the rookie signees. (Here's one who will show up: Teen sensation Amobi Okoye, the first-rounder who signed with the Texans. Other notable rookie signings: Joe Thomas, Jamaal Anderson, Marshawn Lynch. Sounds like Ted Ginn is close. Hmm: How about Calvin Johnson... or Brady Quinn? Is Quinn still asking for Top 10 money as a 20-something pick?)

(You know what did show up, in my mailbox? Pro Football Prospectus 2007. I'm so excited about that. I'll let you know how it looks this year after I've gotten a chance to dive into it this weekend. I'm pretty sure it will earn its annual "must-have" status.)

More: Goodbye Simeon Rice, hello Gaines Adams.

College Football Media Daze: The SEC Media Day craziness isn't even over yet, and I think Steve Spurrier has beaten out Nick Saban and Urban Meyer as THE guy – mainly because Spurrier was talking up South Carolina as a legit SEC contender. EDSBS had the Gamecocks listed at No. 6 in his preseason Top 25. Don't know if that's his Spurrier-love or some special insight or just the boldness of taking a flier on the national breakout team of the year. Not sure I see it.

(OK, OK: Given that the SEC event was in Alabama, Nick Saban was by far the star attraction, as he probably should be this year. Anything less than 8-9 wins this year will be viewed as a disappointment... and I'm not sure that Tide fans won't be disappointed even then.)

College Football Media Daze: Pac-10. Yeah, it's USC and everyone else. (I know everyone says the Pac-10 is loaded this year, but let's truly get real. That's all relative.)

College Football Scheduling: Notre Dame and Oklahoma will play in 2012 and 2013. (Wait: Is this the replacement game for Michigan in those years? Hope not. Who is Michigan going to schedule? Texas is at the top of the wish list. Just don't play in the Rose Bowl, I guess.)

College Football Media: Give Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman credit. He is reaching out to Big Ten bloggers to talk with them about the BTN's story. Here's his interview with the highly influential Brian Cook at MGo Blog. Very savvy decision by Silverman.

(Speaking of Michigan, it looks like YouTube high school All-American RB Sam McGuffie is going to make his commitment announcement on Sunday. He's down to Michigan and Texas A&M. It would be a huge coup for Michigan to get him – he'll bring athleticism and excitement not seen since Desmond Howard... but as an RB, perfect to step in and replace Mike Hart. I don't have the video handy, but just search McGuffie on YouTube for the play I know you know I'm talking about.)

USA Oops: Whether it's pros or college kids, Team USA remains mired in mediocrity. At the PanAm Games, USA lost to Uruguay in the first round. I know it's only college players, but still: It's another indication that not only has the rest of the world caught up, but in many cases, they are better. (USA's under-19 team didn't bring home gold either.)

Fantasy Football: Count me among those who think that the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame is probably one of the most fun, intriguing and Web-friendly (not to mention well-executed) features that has ever published. Kudos to Karabell and Co.

Gaming: I'm actually intrigued to check out the World Series of Video Games on Sunday on CBS. Given the mass volume of gamers out there, there's some possibility here that it could turn into an annual TV event to watch. Depends on the execution.

(Speaking of execution: I'm not usually a NASCAR-watcher, but I'll check in to ESPN's inaugural NASCAR coverage this weekend. Really looking forward to the new "air-flow" animation enhancements, actually. If nothing else, NASCAR has always presented – by far – the most exciting on-screen experience for viewers. Speaking of making video games come alive. That's exactly what NASCAR figured out how to do.)

RIP, Skip Prosser. Condolences to family, friends and fans of a terrific college basketball coach, at several levels. Before he got to Wake Forest, he was part of that tremendous coaching legacy at Xavier. And, I didn't know this, but he once took a Loyola (MD) team that was 2-25 and got them to 17-13 the next season, including an NCAA Tournament bid.

-- D.S.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursday 07/26 A.M. Quickie:
Scandals, Vick, SI vs. Yahoo, More!

OK, if you buy into my theory – that we are in the middle of the worst week (or, I guess at this point, worst MONTH) in recent sports memory -- here's the question:

How would you rank the current headline scandals in terms of their debilitating effect on fans, on their leagues and on sports generally? In no particular order (that's your job):

(1) Donaghy: NBA. Gambling/game-fixing.
(2) Vick: NFL. Top 5 star indicted/dog-fighting/torture/killing
(3) Bonds: MLB. Most revered stat in the game eclipsed/tainted.
(4) Tour de France: Cycling. General cheating implosion.
(5) Wild Card: Your call! Pick/predict another scandal.

Vick Update: Instead of being at Falcons training camp, Vick will be in court and will enter his plea on the dog-fighting conspiracy charge. I think we're safe in assuming he'll plead "not guilty." Watch out for a circus of visuals as activists protest outside (perhaps inside?) the courthouse.

Donaghy Update: Is the NBA in jeopardy because of the scandal? That was the question that True Hoop's Henry Abbott asked of a bunch of NBA experts (and others of us who are not). It's a pretty interesting mix of perspectives (and, yes, some spinning). Here's the link to the full batch of replies, and here's what I wrote to him.

"The future of the league was already in doubt, at least in its relevancy as one of the 'Big' pro sports leagues. The Donaghy scandal simply (and instantly) became the most convenient excuse for that erosion to continue: For casual NBA fans to continue their trend to be less engaged. For the emasculated media to pounce on previously indomitable David Stern. And for the league itself to assign blame for its larger issues on this ugliest of fiascos. 'Donaghy' merely gives the NBA's long-term problems a short-hand label."

Bonds Update: Gary Sheffield's name again pops up. The "clear" chemist (and what a contribution to society HE made... before you rip me, yes, I understand that when used for "good," the "clear" is probably incredibly beneficial to sick people who need it, but you never hear about those cases... only the way that the "clear" basically contributed to ruining baseball and Barry Bonds) says that Sheffield used the "clear," too. Sheffield denies even knowing the guy, but has said he unknowingly did take the "clear" in 01-02.

This "Costas Now" show was just killing Bonds. Curt Schilling chimed in (OF COURSE he did), saying that Bonds not issuing a denial was tantamount to admitting he cheated. (I always thought Bonds DID deny using steroids... I guess Schilling wants Bonds to sue his accusers as proof that he is truly innocent. How litigious of him.)

Meanwhile, Bonds had a funny-ish response: "Don't worry, my day will come," and said Costas is a "midget who knows (nothing) about baseball." Now THAT is funny. Let's see if Costas issues a denial that he either (a) is a midget or (b) knows nothing about baseball.

MLB Trade Deadline: Teixeira to the Braves?

MLB Milestones: We're on the "A-Rod 500" Watch after he hit No. 499 last night. There are 21 players in the "500 Club," and consider that A-Rod turns 32 tomorrow. (Sorry ONLY 32.) By the end of the season, he could end up ahead of Willie McCovey and Ted Williams at No. 15. (There's a significant leap between that and Foxx/Mantle at 14/13. But that'll happen early next season.) By the way, George Brett said that A-Rod is the best player ever. Not a bad endorsement.

More Milestones (and, yes, another from New York): "Glavine 300" is on after he hit No. 299 last night. Glavine would be the 23rd member of the club, with a reasonable chance to crack the Top 20 if he pitched a complete season next year.

NFL Moves: After a lot of speculation, it looks like the Jags (MY Jags – Deadspin Preview of the team in Season 2 of my fandom coming early next month!) aren't going to sign Daunte Culpepper. Good news for Byron Leftwich, for whom I am in the bag.

Meanwhile, Priest Holmes (who will always have a place in fans' hearts as one of the most prolific single-season fantasy football performers of all time) will try to return from injury at Chiefs camp starting this weekend.

NFL Retirements: Curtis Martin has officially retired. The fourth-leading rusher in NFL history could be the most underrated player (or under-the-radar Hall of Famer) in modern NFL history. Based on his career body of work (and where he stands near the top of so many all-time stat lists), he is certainly a first-ballot NFL Hall of Famer.

Tour de France: The epidemic -- of athlete cheating and of lost credibility with virtually every fan – truly justifies a "re-set" moment with the sport, where they allow any/all forms of performance enhancement. It can't possibly be worse than the current state. For goodness' sake: They sent home the LEADER of the FRIGGING RACE because he was cheating (lying about where he was training)!

(Parents out there: As I attempt to curb my swearing in front of the kid, is "frigging" appropriate? How about "effing?" How about "flipping?" Aren't they all just watered-down versions of using the "F-word?" And isn't it wrong to indicate that use of an F-word – either the real thing or a proxy – isn't the best way to communicate? I also have realized that, of my many vices, swearing might be the most deeply rooted and difficult to change.)

By the way: At the risk of blasphemy, given the state of the sport (particularly this month), does that make you more or less (or, um, more) likely to disbelieve that Lance Armstrong NEVER cheated.

College Football: UCLA receivers coach Eric Scott was arrested on burglary charges. Burglary? What the hell? (Normally, this wouldn't make my radar, but at one point, Eric Scott was the greatest recruit to ever join Northwestern. As a freshman, he was electrifying. Gave NU fans hope that Gary Barnett was turning the corner. Once other coaches figured out he was great, he was wooed away and transferred, to UCLA. NU, of course, went on to win the Big Ten title – twice – without him. I guess he never should have left. That karma is a brutal mistress.)

More: Is the Big Ten expanding? The TV network certainly lets that happen, and the move from 12 teams seems logical (I mean, they've already blown the whole "Ten" thing with an 11th team), given that they can then have two divisions with a lucrative conference-championship game. (Yes, Michigan and Ohio State fans: Start protesting now that Michigan-OSU is ALREADY a de facto conference-championship game. That's an incredibly valid point.)

Still, my question is which team should the Big Ten target? Notre Dame is obvious, but what's their incentive to join? Syracuse or Rutgers? Pretty far afield, geographically. Plus, Syracuse can't possibly bolt the Big East because of its basketball tradition. Missouri or Iowa State? Eh. Does the Big Ten really want one of the Big 12's secondary athletic brands? (Sorry, Mizzou and ISU fans. No offense meant.)

NASCAR: Will race coverage on ESPN boost the sport's TV audience? You can't escape NASCAR programming on ESPN. It instantly became one of the jewels of the network's collection of sports. (Below NFL, obviously, but on par with college football and the NBA.)

The issue has always been this: Avid NASCAR fans will watch, no matter what channel the races are on. The question is whether ESPN can expand NASCAR's audience to either casual NASCAR fans (if such a thing even exists) or flip non-NASCAR fans into mildly (or very) interested NASCAR fans?

Sports Media: Michael Silver is leaving SI for Yahoo Sports. That's a great pick-up for Yahoo. I wonder if Silver is going to miss writing those long-form NFL stories he was so good at? Because that stuff just doesn't work (or need to work) online. I want quick. I want pointed. I think he'll enjoy it. It's a hell of a lot more timely and fun to write (and read) than the long-form SI articles.

Plus, Silver will apparently be competing with Peter King on Monday mornings. But please keep it all in perspective: Online sports content is NOT a zero-sum game. People will not stop reading King's MMQB because they're reading Silver's column. They'll read both. And that's a good thing. Kudos to Yahoo on the hire.

By the way, I wonder how much they paid him? Not for any other reason but that I'll bet it was a lot, and I'll bet it was a number that they could have hired, say, Big Daddy Drew from KSK for.

The question remains: Is the big sports sites' blind spot for hiring mainstream media "names" the wrong direction of that kind of investment when organically grown blog superstars not only are better suited for the medium and its consumers, but actually bring far greater "name" recognition -- not to mention credibility -- than their mainstream counterparts? (Great example: True Hoop vs. Hash Marks.)

On second thought: As much as I'd like to see my blogging colleagues get paid, I like that mainstream media continues to mostly overlook them, because it means that the sports-blog universe continues to thrive and flourish. Still, would it kill someone in the mainstream to give B.D. Drew -- or any of the KSK guys -- a regular column gig? (Embrace the racy humor!)

NHL Scandal! Dog-fighting? No. Game-fixing? No. Steroid-tainting? No. The Staal Brothers, Eric and Jordan, two of the NHL's rising stars and poster guys, were arrested for disorderly conduct at Eric's bachelor party. Wait, that's not scandalous. That's blissfully normal. Hooray for the NHL and its players' culture of excessive... fun-having.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Donaghy Exclusive!
Are We Mis-Pronouncing the Name?

Today's usual "Quickie" post directly below.

UPDATE: I just got an email from a cousin of Tim Donaghy
(whee: exclusive!), who asked me to pass along the message to everyone that his family pronounces it "Don-a-gie," with a hard-G sound (like "hoagie"), not "Don-a-hee" (like "hee-hee").*

Perhaps the mob should investigate to make sure that while we bury the man, we're pronouncing his name correctly in the process. Cousin Donaghy ends his email with a message I think we can all relate to: "Now I know what its like to have the last name 'Bartman.'"

(* - It's possible that Tim Donaghy himself altered the pronunciation, but the rest of his family apparently pronounces it with the hard-G sound.)

Wednesday 07/25 A.M. Quickie:
Stern vs. Donaghy, Vick vs. Goodell, Bonds vs. Selig

Donaghy Update: To the extent it was possible, David Stern "won" his press conference yesterday. In arguably the worst moment of his career, Stern maximized his damage control, offering what seemed like a heart-sick attitude combined with what was undoubtedly a firm grip.

"Isolated case" seems to be the phrase he and his crisis-communication specialists have come up with to insulate the rest of the league. (Here's the reality: Avid fans will continue to watch and follow the NBA; casual fans will continue to erode.)

Vick Update: Roger Goodell offloads the heavy lifting on the Vick case to an ex-US deputy attorney general and stakes out the perfect "it'll take as long as it takes" position on when he might determine whether Vick is allowed to play in the league. Purgatory is as good as a suspension (for now), without the hassle.

The Falcons were reportedly ready to suspend Vick for four games (geez, that's weak), until the NFL told them to hold off and let the big boys handle it. I think there's no doubt that Vick has played his last game for the Falcons. The two big questions: (1) Has he played his last game in the NFL? (Doubtful.) (2) Can the Falcons leverage any clauses about personal conduct in Vick's contract to avoid being crippled by the cap hit of exiling him?

Bonds Update: The chemist who invented the "clear" (aka THG) says he thinks that Barry had to have known he was using steroids. Didn't seem like he offered much proof beyond "How could you NOT know?" which, while compelling (particularly from this expert), does not constitute affirmative proof. (Meanwhile: He had six at-bats last night in a 13-inning loss, and didn't come up with a HR.)

Related: Selig will try to follow Bonds around and be there when he breaks the record. That was the right thing to do. He's the Commissioner of Baseball, not the Commissioner of Fans and Media Who Loathe Bonds.

College Football Media Daze: SEC. I can barely contain myself. Don't be surprised that Florida is my pick to win the conference. (That's like being surprised that Darren McFadden is my SEC P.O.Y.)

The Gators' defense is going to be fast, but young; good thing the offense is going to hang an average of 40-50 ppg on everyone (except LSU). South Carolina is the SEC's most intriguing team. Nick Saban is its biggest storyline. McFadden is its best talent. And let me quash something: Whether you doubt him or love him, Tim Tebow will be far better than you think.

It remains, by far, the toughest conference in college football, where a 1-loss conference champ that seemed to just get by during the conference schedule can absolutely obliterate the unbeaten (and consensus No. 1) best of the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, my Must-Read Post of the Day/Week/Month comes from Orson at EDSBS. You can find it in the post below (or just click here).

MLB Stud: Craig Biggio. After his announcement yesterday that he was retiring after the season, he hit a grand slam to lead the Astros over the Dodgers.

MLB Dud: Randy Johnson implies that his career might be over. Emphasize: Might. Wouldn't surprise me if he was back again next year. Also wouldn't surprise me if he pulled a Clemens and was able to come back for short seasons for years to come.

Trade Deadline Rumors: With a week to go, the biggest name being thrown around is Mark Teixeira. Reportedly: Dodgers, Angels, Braves and Red Sox are interested.

NFL: No, Tedy Bruschi isn't dead... Bears about to sign Lance Briggs... All-Pro OT Tarik Glenn is going to retire... $30,000 isn't a crazy monthly palimony check for Matt Leinart to pay Brynn Cameron to support their baby, when you consider how much money he makes (and what a douchebag father he sounds like he's been so far)... Ben Roethlisberger is dating Missy Peregrym? Now THAT can make HIM the "Hero."

Beckham Watch: Who needs Becks? The Galaxy won without him. Oh, right: But no one was paying attention. THAT'S why they need Becks. (Related: ESPN scores its highest soccer rating ever – a 1.0 – for the Beckham debut. Correct me if I'm wrong, but a 1.0 is roughly a good night on PTI.

Tour de France: When riders are staging protests, rather than starting their stages, the sport is absolutely imploding (even more than you thought it was already). Maybe cycling should adopt a policy where riders get to do ANYTHING they want, chemically. That's closer to a level playing field than where they are now.

NHL: The Senators re-signed breakout goalie Ray Emery, who has the potential – along with Crosby and Ovechkin – to be the Face of Hockey.

Sports on TV: The Donaghy Scandal will define the NBA next season. Still, the league will try to put its best face forward. The word is that the Christmas Day game (which is arguably more important than any single Finals game, particularly when they end as sweeps) will be LeBron vs. Dwyane Wade. They probably should have made it Durant vs. Oden (maybe as the front-end of a double-header?) Noticeably missing: The champs. For obvious reasons.

Pop Culture: I can't believe I haven't talked about this: Simpsons movie opens this Friday. Are your expectations high or low? (By the way, get ready for Friday, where the Comments section will be a tribute to the Simpsons: Your favorite character, episode and quote.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Read This Post: EDSBS "What We Do Here"

If you are at all interested in what sports blogging is about (and a little about the bloggers' relationship with ESPN), read this latest post by Orson at EDSBS. (And if you don't like blogger navel-gazing, you might even like this post, because it sort of rejects navel-gazing, too.) It might go down as the ultimate post on the subject. Filed under: "Damn, I Wish I Wrote That."

Tuesday 07/24 A.M. Quickie:
Stern on Donaghy, Vick, Lester, Longhorns, More!

Donaghy Update: David Stern faces the media today, in what is arguably his biggest crisis as NBA Commissioner. UPDATE: Here's Deadspin's live-blog, plus comments.

(Given his mastery over both his league and the media that covers it, I'll bet he never thought he'd be in this position at this stage of his career.)

He is a genius when it comes to dealing with media questions, so I expect him to mix it up with a combination of "Can't discuss because it's an ongoing FBI investigation" with "Here's what we're doing about it."

However, Stern still will have to find an acceptable answer to the impossible-to-answer question: "How did this happen?"

And then there's the ultimate question in any/all scandals: "What did you know and when did you know it?"


Vick Update: The NFL won't let Vick report to Falcons camp this week. That's hardly a surprise, although it's worth noting because the league finally took some action against him. I'm betting it won't be the last time the league takes action against him.

Meanwhile, Terence Moore, columnist of the Falcons' hometown Atlanta Journal-Constitution, says today that there's no way Vick can return to the Falcons. Gee, thanks for joining the rest of us, Terence. Still, there's something about the old-media local newspaper columnist applying the coup de grace we all know is coming.

Bonds Update: Nothing. Well, no home runs, at least. Perhaps a bigger story today is the news that Bonds' ex-girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, will pose nude in the November issue of Playboy.

Beckham Update: Will sit tonight. Wow, what a phenomenon!

(Does that cover sports' Big Four "Update"-worthy topics right now? Oh, right: there's NFL heating up!)

NFL Camping: Steelers. It's not the players that will be under the most scrutiny for the twice-removed Super Bowl champs. It's new head coach Mike Tomlin. All he has to do is keep a helmet on Big Ben and he'll be fine.

NFL Holdouts: Is Calvin Johnson going to hold out? Given his rep as a nice guy, it's a bit of a surprise. On the other hand, given Matt Millen's rep, it's not.

MLB Stud: Jon Lester, who allowed 2 runs and 5 hits in his return from a year-long fight with lymphoma. The Red Sox beat the Indians in what is quickly becoming a "must-win" series for Boston, given New York's surge. (A-Rod: First player to 100 RBI this season.)

MLB Stud 2: Aaron Harang, who returned from his grandfather's funeral to pitch 10 innings of a 12-inning Reds win. Wow: That's motivated.

MLB Dud: Johan Santana, in a rare "Dud" appearance after an equally rare bad second-half-of-the-season start.

College Football Media Daze: Big 12. It is Texas, then everyone else. I list Texas among the national-title contenders, if only because their combo of non-conference and conference opponents is a path of least resistance to an unbeaten season: Nebraska and Texas Tech both visit UT. The only potential spoiler? At Texas A&M in the final game of the season. (Then again, you never know: Remember last year's glorious 45-42 win by Kansas State over the Longhorns?)

If you're a Texas fan, by the way, there is a new must-buy book just published: "The Eyes of Texas 2007," a season preview edited by Peter Bean, editor of the spectacular Burnt Orange Nation. I'm no Texas fan, but it's what every top team blogger should put together for the team's fans. Here's a link.

More Donaghy: From Rob Weintraub's Slate piece on Donaghy:

"[G]amblers betting the over on all 72 of Donaghy's games would have won 43 times. That's the third-highest number out of 60 NBA refs."

First of all, I love the "over" storyline, which I believe was first broken by Darren Rovell. (It also completely debunks the high-profile theory that sprouted by Monday morning that somehow Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs game was under Donaghy's nefarious influence, rather than simply badly reffed, like so many other recent playoff games.)

But that second sentence struck me: If Donaghy has the third-highest "over" percentage out of 60 NBA refs, isn't it worth a casual look to see who is No. 1 and No. 2? I'm not accusing either of anything, but if you're running an "over" percentage higher than the gambleholic game-fixer himself, you have some explaining to do.

USA Basketball: I'm not usually a Kobe fan, but his performance in the scrimmage over the weekend really stuck with me. Absolutely, he is the difference-maker between Team USA being a crappy also-ran and Team USA being a gold-medal team. (Well, that, and not having Larry Brown as coach.) Kobe will lead Team USA to a gold medal in 2008 and it will displace everything else (including his various basketball and non-basketball summer escapades) as the defining accomplishment of Kobe's career. No wonder he's motivated.

Tour de France: Surprise, surprise! The TdF leader, Michael Rasmussen, is under scrutiny and suspicion about his drug-testing methods.

New Media: I watched the YouTube presidential debate yesterday night. Is it game-changing? Only if major media companies buy into the idea that the voters (or, in our case, the fans) can do just as good of a job (or, in many cases, better) than the media itself. Mainstream media should be a platform, not its "talent" an assumed (and presumed) source of expertise.

-- D.S.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday 07/23 A.M. Quickie:
NBA Scandal, Brit Open, Vick, Kobe, More!

UPDATE: Darren Rovell has a must-read analysis about why the "over" is the Donaghy stat to pay attention to.

Tell you what: This story has sparked some tremendous detail work by online columnists and bloggers, who are naturally inclined to pore over the stats or to be open to the heavy database work necessary to illuminate the real story here. Let's hope that mainstream media sports writers are quick to credit any details they find from that kind of work. (Example: Check out the in-progress Donaghy game wiki from ArmchairGM.)

(And Henry Abbott, back from vacation, has a terrific post about what the NBA should do next. Using one of my favorite crisis-management cure-alls, Henry nails it: Transparency.)

NBA Ref/Gambling/Game-Fixing Scandal (a.k.a., Nelson Muntz-style: "Dona-HA-ha!") It's very hard to add anything to this story that hasn't already been beaten into the ground after a weekend of "What does it all mean?" coverage.

Among the things that stand out for me is that this is the inevitable result of leagues taking a "Get Tough" approach to punishing their talent. Leagues don't REALLY want to see what's under the rock: Between PEDs, gambling and crime, there's inevitably more where that came from... when you finally start to look for it -- and judge it.

Meanwhile, I don't think fans really care. Let me revise that: I have never thought fans really cared about PEDs, nor do I think they truly care about off-field incidents (even as jaw-dropping as Vick's).

Now: Gambling? That's worse, because it could lead to what we have here: Game-fixing. And game-fixing by officials is probably the worst of all; they can control the entire game. Why do you think that "lollygagging" offends more fans than steroids? (Because at least PEDs indicate that you're trying to be productive.)

I am surprised that the NBA got burnt: They seem to be the most sophisticated about tracking and grading their refs. What's scary is that if the NBA couldn't catch it, how bad could it get?

Oh, and by the way: There's no question that someone at the NBA has to be fired over this, and it has to be Stu Jackson, who manages the league's officiating. I have a hard time imagining David Stern publicly offering up his equivalent of "You're doing a heckuva job, Stu."

Update: Donaghy is reportedly getting death threats. I wonder how the people who are doing the threatening did in last year's NCAA Tournament office pool or in this year's fantasy leagues?

Oh, and apparently, Donaghy gambled a lot on sports even before this specific thing started, so who knows if (or, ahem, how many) he influenced in order to help himself. You'd really think the NBA would screen its refs for, say, gambling problems.

Padraig Harrington wins British Open: But only after both he and Sergio Garcia choked it away on 18 to create a playoff. It's interesting: Padraig had the bigger choke (double-bogey), but because he won, all is forgiven/forgotten. Won't be as easy for Sergio. Still, if you like golf, it was a hell of a finish.

Vick Watch: How could the Falcons NOT push Vick for a "leave of absence?" (I have no grasp of the CBA implications of this. It's just common sense.) Apparently, Arthur Blank is going to announce something tomorrow. I have the feeling Vick will either take a "voluntary" leave of absence or Blank will give him an involuntary version.

MLB Stud: Jon Lester, who made a comeback from lymphoma to return to the Red Sox. He will start tonight's game.

MLB Dud: The White Sox, who dropped into a tie for last in the uber-competitive AL Central. Man, how long ago does 2005 feel?

Who is Shelley Duncan, and how many of you had him on your fantasy league rosters (let alone activated) over the weekend?

Minor-league tragedy: The Tulsa Drillers' first-base coach Mike Coolbaugh died Sunday as a result of a line drive to his head. What a sad story. Should coaches on the field have to wear helmets?

Beckham's MLS debut: Maybe they should have made sure he wasn't injured before trotting/limping him out.

College Football Media Daze: ACC. Don't expect Wake Forest to put together back-to-back miracle seasons. The team (and emotional story) to watch is, obviously, Virginia Tech. (Virginia is the darkhorse.)

Meanwhile, I'll be interested to see how ESPN's new daily show "College Football Live" will do. It's a smart idea: There's more than enough to talk about, even in mid-July. I think execs will be shocked when it draws a lot of viewers, particularly for 3:30 p.m. (Whoops: I just found out that Colin Cowherd will be involved in some way. Well, so much for my high hopes...)

USA Basketball: The difference between this USA team and the last one, and why this edition will win gold in China in '08 after the Athens '04 debacle? Kobe Bryant.

Kobe had a team-high 26 in an intra-squad scrimmage, and he showed the team has the go-to scorer it really needs.

From Kobe's perspective, this is the closest thing he's going to get to being on a championship team, so he's obviously relishing the experience.

In case you missed it: I wrote an essay for the NY Times' weekly Play Magazine email newsletter about the goodness that is Mark Cuban owning the Cubs. Here's a link. (Yes, I know it says "1918," but should say "1908." Working on getting that fixed.)

Meanwhile, there is probably a bunch of smaller (yet interesting) stuff from over the weekend that I missed. Feel free to add/discuss in the Comments.

-- D.S.

Sunday, July 22, 2007